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Maine Takes the Right Approach to Student Testing
Ohanian Comment: It is all very well for editorialists to congratulate Maine school officials. But their criticism of Federal arbitrary rules needs to be lots more strident.
York school officials are to be congratulated on their efforts to develop a testing regimen that should eventually satisfy both the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the educational needs of local youngsters.
While many in the educational community are complaining about meeting federal standards or the unfair nature of the tests, Maine schools are doing something about it.
In 2002, York began traveling the road to equitable and effective testing for each grade level, for all subjects.
In order to document that students are meeting the standards set forth by Maine’s State Learning Results testing, students must demonstrate that they can achieve at high levels in all subjects and grade levels, something far beyond that demanded by No Child.
In addition, Maine testing lets teachers, parents and taxpayers know if students — and the school system — are making progress.
Unlike the statewide — pass or fail — testing in some states like Massachusetts and Texas, Maine has developed a system that allows locally administered assessment of student learning. Teachers may choose from a variety of assessment types, including traditional tests, performances, projects and portfolios to document student growth.
Unfortunately, the federal government has not yet seen fit — in Maine’s case — to see the wisdom of such individualized testing. There is, however, hope. Nebraska, which measures student progress in a fashion similar to Maine, has had its testing regimen accepted for No Child use, according to Rebecca Sausner, writing for "District Administration," an educational journal for school administrators.
According to York Curriculum Coordinator Maryann Minard, current standards employed by Maine to meet No Child requirements only offer a limited look at the quality of education and the progress of students in the classroom.
Minard’s dream and the dream of other Maine educators is to have one system of testing that satisfies the needs of individual students and the federal government.
Current testing — like the Maine Educational Assessments used in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 — is of limited use.
"Big, broad testing helps identify trends," says Minard, but it doesn’t fully address the needs of the individual student.
"And that is what education is all about," concludes Minard.
A sentiment we couldn’t agree with more.
One of the criticisms of No Child Left Behind testing is that it is short-sighted, that is doesn’t adequately track the long-term progress of individual students.
That is not the case with Maine’s Learning Results testing.
Under the system employed in York, teachers for each grade level and subject work in teams to create the assessments taken by students. Students are scored on a four-point scale that indicates if a student does not meet, partially meets, meets or exceeds the standards measured.
York has determined that students must pass 70 percent of all of the assessments given over a four-year grade span to be considered successful.
If students do not meet the assessment standards, teachers must work with them until they do.
Another striking aspect of Maine’s testing regimen is that teachers who score the assessment tests must work together as a grade-level or subject-area team, practicing the scoring of the assessments until they find themselves agreeing on their scores at least 70 percent of the time.
This common scoring process has been required by the state to eliminate teacher bias in scoring that can occur when only one teacher makes a judgment about student work.
The result is a system that parents and taxpayers know and can trust.
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