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To:        Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Curriculum Coordinators, Special Education Directors, Guidance Directors, and School Principals

From:    Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

Date:     December 16, 2004

 Re:       Update on the Local Assessment System (LAS) and Proposed Measures for Addressing Current Development Issues

Key Points Covered in this Informational Letter:

LAS Implementation Challenges and DOE Responses :

The intense effort in Maine schools and districts to complete work on Local Assessment Systems (LAS) has led to a range of concerns being raised, including:   a lack of sufficient professional time to conduct LAS work and preserve time for other priorities; the difficulty of meeting the technical requirements in establishing validity and reliability; and compliance with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements, which consumes both time and resources.   Clearly, NCLB has changed the environment in which LAS development is being conducted.   Preparation to implement Grade Level Expectations (GLEs), for example, has had an impact on the time available for teachers in grades 3-8.

I, too, am concerned that the increasing pressures on classroom teachers, principals, and other district staff have decreased the ability to build thoughtful connections across assessment, curriculum, instruction, and student intervention programs.   Above all, standards-based reforms have been intended to help us build more effective educational programs that lead to higher levels of achievement for all students, outcomes that can only develop with reflection, sufficient time, and adequate training.   The expression, “Go slow to go fast,” captures our quandary:   facing increasing State and federal demands for accountability, how do we most effectively build reflective, integrated practices that increase our chances for success?  

Some amount of tension, or heightened expectation, is required for productive change.   We have heard from many educators across Maine that the implementation of the Learning Results and the Local Assessment System has led to significant improvement in aligning teaching and learning with the standards, in communicating to students and parents that personal and societal success in the 21st Century will require higher standards for all, and in laying the foundation for transformational changes to support students who otherwise would have slipped through the cracks.   We have also heard that the expectations and timelines have permitted change to occur where other levers for change have failed.  However, some districts are approaching a point where too much tension and anxiety is interfering with the ability to manage the change process effectively.  

Clearly, the current context requires us to take action to address the concerns.   Potential responses fall into two basic categories:   identifying strategies that can be done within our existing statutory and regulatory structures, and those that can only be achieved through modifications of those legal structures.   To ensure that Maine DOE resources are targeted at addressing the full range of LAS implementation issues, I am directing our staff to:

Strategies to Support District LAS Implementation :

As noted above, it is important that we identify all potential efficiencies that can be achieved immediately and within our current legal structures.   The following handful of steps are intended to help districts pace their LAS development work over the next few years and build understanding and support among students and parents.          

Phase-in of Reliability:  A specific strategy for pacing the work of building the reliability aspects of the LAS, as developed in the DOE guidance for districts, Considering Consistency, is to begin this year with the assumption that only after the full “body of evidence” is assembled for a given student will the full degree of reliability be necessary from a technical perspective.   Thus, beginning this year with the initial grades in a four-year accumulation of evidence across the grade spans of the MLR (grades 1, 5, and 9), districts can phase in the reliability work over four years, adding grades 2, 6, and 10 next year, and so on through 2008.   Districts should follow through with administration of the assessments required this year under Chapter 127, while potentially building reliability more slowly over the next four years.

Strategic Use of Replacement Assessments:   The same “body of evidence” approach can also be applied to replacement assessment use.   Some districts have made the assumption that replacement assessments must be available for each assessment administered.   However, at the recent Curriculum Coordinators’ Conference, conducted by Maine DOE, a strategy was reviewed that illustrates how, through careful analysis of a student’s assessment record, or body of evidence, replacement assessments are needed only when the student is clearly in danger of not meeting standards.   Documents outlining this approach to replacement assessments can be found at the link below.   Questions and requests for further information can be directed to Pam Rolfe at

Involve Parents and Students:   It is difficult to overestimate the importance of being certain that parents and students are fully informed about the purposes for and details of the Local Assessment System.   Setting the context for the LAS in the broader goals of the Learning Results, in the economic and technological context of the world our young people will grow up in, is also critical to garnering support for the day-to-day work.   Many districts are convening conversations with 9 th grade parents and students to ensure broad understanding of the big picture and the details.   The link below is a Power Point presentation that has been developed as a model for districts to use or adapt for this type of parent and student presentation.

Clarification on Assessment Selection for Grades 3-4:   When making decisions about how many assessments in social studies, science, and health/PE to administer in the 3-4 grade span, local units are reminded that according to Chapter 127, section 4.02, C.10, a unit must be able to obtain a picture of student performance in these three content areas at the school level across these grades. The Department has not defined or provided guidance on a specific number of assessments that would be necessary to achieve this “school” level picture of student achievement. Schools are granted wide latitude in making these decisions.   Therefore, it is not necessary to complete a full template-as outlined in the LAS Guide-for these content areas in this grade span.

Examine All Available Funding Sources to Support Additional Time for Teachers:   My goal is to ensure that the EPS model, which will guide the funding in FY ’05, provides sufficient increases to local districts to make it possible to use a variety of funding streams to build additional time for assessment-related work in the calendar year for teachers.   As FY ’05 budgets are being built at the State and local levels, in the coming weeks and months, it is essential that we lay the foundation for recognizing the true costs of implementing the system of Learning Results, and use all available resources as strategically as possible.

Data Collection and DOE Support Activities :

            As we move forward on a comprehensive status check of   Maine’s system of standards, assessments, and accountability structures, it is important that a wide variety of data sources inform the review.    While the review is being conducted, however, it is also critical that all available resources and strategies be devoted to supporting local LAS implementation efforts.   The following activities support one or both of these immediate needs:  

Task Force on Teacher Workload:   Over the past several months, this task force has discussed the changing roles and responsibilities that standards-based practices have introduced into the daily and yearly professional realities for Maine’s teachers.   The task force is expected to produce its final report in January 2005.   I anticipate that the report will include significant recommendations to address the issue of matching the resource of time with the current realities of the work.  

Local Assessment Implementation Study (LASIS):   Building on the first year of LASIS, which investigated the initial implementation efforts in local districts, year two will focus on two critical aspects of LAS implementation:   the implementation of scoring and reliability development; and the impact of the LAS on assessing achievement in special populations (students with disabilities, ELL students, students in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, and those in alternative education programs).   Similar to year one, Maine DOE will work most intensely with a core group of 12-15 districts, whose practices will be examined in greater detail.   In addition, another statewide survey in the spring will capture findings from all districts.   This year’s LASIS project will be guided by Dr. David Silvernail of the University of Southern Maine.   I thank you ahead of time for your participation in this important feedback process that lets us know more closely the reality experienced in schools across Maine.

Technical Assistance Sessions for SAUs requesting a Waiver for the Local Assessment System Implementation:   Sixty-one school administrative units submitted and received approval for a one-year waiver for the Local Assessment System Implementation Timeline. A thorough review and analysis of all of the waiver requests and compliance plans has been completed.   This data has been used to inform the planning for the DOE sponsored, one-day technical assistance workshops that representatives from these sites will attend. What emerges from the events will be very valuable data on the current challenges facing districts in Maine. Four regional technical assistance sessions are scheduled – one in January and three in February.   Superintendents in these districts will receive further information in the next few days on the precise dates and location for the sessions.  

            Exploration of “Scorer Certification” Model by TAC:   The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) will continue its initial investigation, begun last spring, into the potential efficiencies that might be obtained through documenting reliability in scoring through scorer certification.   TAC will continue this discussion with the charge from me to explore every avenue to arrive at technically defensible levels of reliability in the most efficient manner possible.

            Partnership Projects with Maine School Management Association (MSMA):   Two critical pieces of work are underway with MSMA:  

A Time for Thoughtful Review :

As discussed above, it is my intent to ensure that a comprehensive, thoughtful review be conducted in the weeks and months ahead.   In spite of the challenges we currently face, from the complications of NCLB and developing assessment systems that will stand up to new demands, I remain committed to the premise of Maine’s Comprehensive Assessment System to help us achieve our goals for student learning.   Let us find our way through these demanding times with patience and deliberation.   In the meantime, I thank you for your ongoing commitment to Maine’s Comprehensive Assessment System, and look forward to the immense satisfaction and pride we will all feel when those first graduating seniors accept their diplomas attesting to the achievement of Maine’s Learning Results.