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TO:†††† ††††††††††† Superintendents of Schools and Principals


FROM:††††††††††† J. Duke Albanese, Commissioner


DATE:††††††††††† November 22, 2002


RE:†††† ††††††††††† MEA Participation Requirements






The Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) tests in English Language Arts (Reading and Writing) and Health Education are scheduled to arrive in schools this week for the test administration period beginning December 2, 2002.During the regional test administration orientation sessions in October, and since that time, questions have arisen concerning changes in Maineís legislative rules for Chapter 127 and the federal No Child Left Behind legislation which require the participation of all students in the MEA assessment.The questions frequently focus on students with the most significant learning needs, as well as the increasing number of students who are new to the English language. Additionally, questions and concerns related to high school participation and the productivity of high school students in the assessment have been raised.


At the outset, I wish to acknowledge Maineís national leadership in the inclusion of students in the assessment process, and commend school personnel for their efforts to include students with the most significant learning needs.These new participation requirements highlight the need for all students to reach high academic standards, which is necessary if they are to have a fair opportunity to succeed and enjoy life in our society, and if schools are to be fairly compared on their performance.


High School Student Participation


Secondary schools are raising questions concerning the determination of student eligibility for testing, when certain students are lacking or have exceeded the credits for being a junior/grade 11 student. This issue is also raised for students who are being schooled in a non-graded situation.The legislation establishing the MEA specifies that all students be assessed three times during their school career at grades 4, 8, and 11.When a student does not follow the usual four-year path through high school, the determination of the time for testing should be based on the number of years in school. For example, a student in his/her third year of high school should participate in the MEA regardless of accumulated credits. The student is required to take the MEA once, even if they were not promoted or if they lack credits to move to the next grade.


High School Student Engagement and Productivity


Concerns continue to be raised in relation to the seriousness with which secondary students approach taking the MEA tests.To address the issue of student engagement with the MEA, some secondary schools are adopting local policies to include MEA results as part of the student transcript. Current legislative rule requires only that the studentís MEA results become part of the school record. Since the transcript is the record most frequently forwarded to post secondary institutions, the military, or potential employers, this action may be a partial solution to increasing student engagement with the MEA and improving performance. However, gaining student interest and focus on the MEA and local assessments will require our continuing attention, and the development of a diverse, even individualized set of approaches.This is particularly important as we move forward with the implementation of Learning Results during which the MEA assumes a locally determined role in the certification of studentsí achievement of the new standards. Further, at the state level, the performance of all students will serve as the national and state criteria for judging the effectiveness and quality of our educational system.


Inclusion of Students with Special Needs


The MEA program requires inclusion of all students through one of three options: standard administration, administration with accommodations, or administration through alternate assessment.It is the schoolís responsibility to recommend the appropriate option for participation.This is to be accomplished through the Pupil Evaluation Team (PET) process for special education students or through a locally identified team for students who are English Language Learners (ELL) or students who have other unique learning needs.While these procedures are not new to the MEA program, schools are now required to determine appropriate participation opportunities for students with significant needs who in the past may not have participated.


Alternate Assessment


The Department recognizes the challenge of these new participation requirements and is prepared to assist schools to achieve appropriate inclusion of all students.The Personalized Alternate Assessment Portfolio (PAAP) provides access to high standards and the assessment process for those students with the most significant learning needs.It is anticipated that the PAAP process will be appropriate for approximately 1% of all students at each of the three grade levels assessed.The first training sessions in the PAAP procedures for this school year are complete, and additional training and scoring sessions are scheduled for January and May. Information is available at the alternate assessment website address: <>.In addition, the Policies and Procedures for Accommodations and Alternate Assessment to the MEA was sent to all schools as part of the MEA Test Coordinators Manual.Finally, the MEA will produce, for the first time, a Sheltered English version of the MEA mathematics assessment for use with ELL students.



Accountability for Student Participation

Be advised that schools will be held accountable under the No Child Left Behind Act for achieving the required 95% participation in the MEA program through monitoring of participation rates for all students, including identified sub-groups of special needs students and migrant students.A lower participation rate could result in identification as a Priority School, with the same implications as low performance.Many states have moved to assign students a minimum score if they do not participate in the test, which would lower the school score.We continue to resist that step, realizing that there may be extreme situations that would prevent a student from participating.Instead, the Department will conduct a review of school procedures for inclusion if there is evidence of patterns of non-participation of students.


Parent Refusal of MEA Testing


How should schools respond to a parent refusal to have their child participate in MEA testing?First, schools are required to recommend the appropriate option for student participation in the MEA as described earlier.If the parent(s) of a child with an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) request that their child not be tested, the PET process requires that parents be informed of their procedural safeguards just as they would be if they had an objection to any other part of the IEP. The school should continue to implement its recommendation unless parents exercise their due process rights. For parents whose child is not in the special education category, the school must inform the parent that participation is now required, and document the efforts to gain the cooperation of the parent in support of the assessment process.Participation in the MEA is considered an integral part of the school program, and the parent should be made aware that failure to participate could affect certification of achievement of Learning Results, and issuance of a high school diploma beginning in 2007.




Finally, please keep in mind that we are all working with new state and federal policies for inclusion of students, and there are likely to be student circumstances that will push our interpretation of these new rules.I urge you to forward questions concerning participation in the MEA to us as they arise. Such timely communication will help us clarify the application of the rules and provide you with clearer direction in future years.I believe that we can all agree on the merits of giving students fair access to our high standards as represented in our state and local assessment efforts.Thank you for your cooperation in helping Maine achieve high performance, while honoring the call for inclusion.