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INFORMATIONAL LETTER:  12

 

POLICY CODE:  CGD / ILBB

 

 

TO:                  Superintendents of Schools, Assistant Superintendents, Curriculum Coordinators, and School Principals

 

FROM:            Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

 

DATE:             August 13, 2003

 

RE:                   No Child Left Behind Act – Assessment Plan

 

 

            Maine’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) submission on January 31, 2003 included a proposal to use our Local Assessment Systems to provide the necessary data on student achievement in reading and math for annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) calculations in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7.   Under this plan, the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) will continue to provide test results for grades 4, 8, and 11 for AYP.  No sooner had this proposal been submitted than differing points of view began to be expressed among educators across the State.  The greatest concern of those who opposed the use of Local Assessment Systems for this purpose was the worry that the accountability features required under NCLB (annual testing, rigorous validity and reliability expectations, and cross district comparisons) would prove to be so intrusive that the Learning Results purposes would be overwhelmed and virtually lost in the annual federal assessment activity.  Most observers taking this view suggested that, instead, the State develop a simple, common assessment for purposes of NCLB reporting and that it be one that could be easily administered at the local level, scored at the state level, and returned rapidly to local educators for maximum instructional application. 

 

After seeking broad-based perspectives on this issue from superintendents and other district educational staff, university assessment specialists, Technical and Policy Advisory Committee members, and Department staff, it has become clear to me that placing the full burden of NCLB on our still-maturing Local Assessment Systems is premature at this time.  A recent survey of local districts on the status of their Local Assessment Systems has confirmed what anecdotal evidence had already suggested:  approximately 40% of districts across Maine report that key aspects of their assessment system work is characterized by either “No action taken” or “Planning in progress.” The survey indicates that progress is being made, and that the commitment is strong, but that confidence levels about completing the work by the end of the coming school year (2003-04 as prescribed by State statute and Me. Dept. of Ed. Reg. Ch. 127) is not sufficient to expect that uniform levels of technical rigor—particularly in comparability across districts—could be achieved in time to support NCLB accountability expectations.

 

I have, therefore, decided to pursue the development of a State assessment tool to measure math and reading grade level expectations in grades 3,5,6, and 7 beginning in school year 2004-05.  For federal reporting purposes, Maine must include these grades in calculating AYP in school year 2005-06; the AYP calculations must be based on two years of data, so the test must be administered for the first time in 2004-05.  In time, data gathered from Local Assessment Systems will be factored into AYP calculations if it is feasible and once we are reasonably certain that local systems are capable of assuming this additional technical challenge. 

 

The off-grade assessment will be developed with the following criteria and design elements in mind:

 

§         The assessment will be based on Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) developed in a process that involves significant input from Maine educators.  Draft GLEs in math are currently posted on the Department website for review and comparison with local curricula.  Reading GLEs will be posted in the coming weeks, as well. 

§         The final set of Maine math and reading GLEs is intended to capture the essential math and reading skills at each grade level, leaving room for local flexibility and discretion in curriculum and instructional program decisions.

§         The assessment will be a combination of selected response and constructed response items.

§         The approximate time of testing will be two hours per subject per grade.

§         The assessment will be administered in the spring, like the MEA, with results expected to be sent back to schools prior to the end of the school year.

§         The assessment will provide a national comparison score for each subject, which could make it possible for local districts to rely less on, or eliminate, the use of national standardized achievement tests.

§         The assessment will be developed and administered using federal NCLB assessment funds.

 

While exploring the development of such an assessment, Department staff investigated the possible benefits of collaborating with three other States (Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire) through the New England Compact, to develop an assessment based on a common set of Grade Level Expectations.  However, after careful consideration, I have concluded that while certain benefits might be derived from such a collaborative effort, the changes that would be required to Maine’s well-developed system of standards and assessments are too numerous.  Maine will continue to participate in several other aspects of the New England Compact, including the development of Limited English Proficiency assessments and other tasks related to assessing students with disabilities.

 

It is extremely important to understand that this shift to a State-developed assessment measure for NCLB purposes in no way diminishes our commitment to Local Assessment Systems.  On the contrary, it is our intent to continue placing a high priority on developing supportive models and guidelines, and conducting regional training sessions to ensure local districts are provided with effective assistance from the State in completing work on their local systems.  The Department is also committed to conducting a major implementation study of the feasibility, impacts, and local status of this critical work.  Our goal is to strengthen Local Assessment Systems for Learning Results purposes while creating an efficient method of complying with NCLB.

 

            I wish to thank those who have contributed to seeking a solution to this extremely important issue, and look forward to future collaborative work as we address the many challenges of No Child Left Behind.