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Summary of Key Findings from the 2001-02 MEA Results
Results from the 2002 Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) describe significant challenges for schools in helping students to achieve the high academic expectations set forth in Maine’s Learning Results. Commissioner of Education J. Duke Albanese, in releasing the 2001- 2002 school year MEA school performance reports for students in grades 4, 8, and 11, said that the MEA results clearly define the gaps between current levels of student performance and the high academic standards set by citizens and teachers in creating Learning Results.
Commissioner Albanese focused on several key themes gleaned from the latest results:
According to Albanese, the context for the latest results is particularly significant in light of new federal requirements from the No Child Left Behind Act adopted in January. Because of the new federal legislation, Maine must address how its performance expectations will define “proficiency” under federal law, as well as how Maine’s definition matches against national tests and other states so that high expectations do not perversely make the state’s performance look poor when compared to states that may adopt lower standards. In addition, Maine must submit revised criteria specifying how MEA results and other factors will be used to identify priority schools in need of improvement, schools that could be subject to interventions or even ultimately sanctions under federal law. Finally, beginning in 2002-03, the State must begin reporting even more detailed data to the public about performance not just for schools but by several demographic subgroups.
Commissioner Albanese, looking across the MEA results in all categories, stated the central theme is the stability in scores over the past four school years. He expressed concern that Maine schools and students must improve if they are to meet the rigorous expectations of Maine’s Learning Results.
Under legislation enacted in 2001, school districts must have local assessment systems in place to measure student performance relative to Learning Results by 2004, and will use these local systems for at least English Language Arts and Mathematics to award high school diplomas to the graduation class of 2007, with other content areas to follow in 2008. Under Maine policy, unlike in some other states, the MEA tests will not be used as a single “high stakes” graduation exam for high school seniors. Local school districts will determine how to use the MEA in combination with their local measures to set graduation criteria. Albanese said, “Although standardized, pencil-and-paper tests have a role in providing critical information and reinforcing the consistency of local measures, we know that such tests simply cannot measure all the facets of what students know and are able to do, and we also know that some students simply do not perform well in a test environment. That is why Maine is developing complementary local systems of measurement that are broader and richer, and that will be used for important decisions such as graduation. The MEA will help to check and confirm the results of these systems.”
When viewing MEA performance in relation to the expectations expressed in Maine’s Learning Results, the strongest student performance at all grade levels tested is in English Language Arts (Reading and Writing) tests:
Albanese observed that grade 4 students are finding the Learning Results writing performance standards particularly challenging with only fourteen percent of students performing in the meets or exceeds the standard categories while the majority (63%) of students’ performance partially met the standard, and eleven percent students scored within the lowest performance category.
Commissioner Albanese noted the elimination of the gender gap in Mathematics and Science performance, with female performance closing within a point or so of male performance in areas where females had historically lagged. However, the Commissioner highlighted the continuing gender differences in Reading and Writing performance, which consistently show males lagging in those areas:
· the current grade 8 results show that, for example, 52% of females met or exceeded the Reading standards, compared to only 35% of males;
· In grade 8 Writing, only 26% of males met or exceeded standards versus 53% of females.
Albanese, noting the demands in our economy for excellent literacy and communication skills, suggested finding strategies for improving male performance in these areas should be a priority for all schools.
The Learning Results content standards in Mathematics and in Science and Technology prove to be the most challenging for students. In Mathematics, while the majority of students partially meet or meet the standards:
Science and Technology performance standards for grade 11 students, currently show 60% of students partially meeting the standards with only 9% of students meeting or exceeding the MEA performance standards. Of the Grade 11 students responding to a question about the usefulness of science and technology in their future work, only twenty-one percent of students strongly agreed that science and technology would be useful to them, while thirty-three percent of students disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Commissioner Albanese, in responding to current levels of MEA performance in Mathematics, and Science and Technology encouraged schools to continue to help students see the relevance, personal necessity, for pursuing higher levels of performance in both content areas. MEA and Scholastic Achievement Tests (SATs) sponsored by the College Board indicate that Maine students are less likely to take higher-level mathematics and science courses than their peers nationally. Commissioner Albanese suggested that in order to raise aspirations of students, broaden course-taking patterns, and ultimately raise student performance, schools must capture student interest at the earliest possible level.
Albanese observed that the 2001- 2002 MEA scores remained relatively constant while including more students who have special needs and who are limited English proficient. Changes in both state and federal legislation over the last few years promote access to high standards for all children. Maine is at the forefront of the nation in accommodating students in the MEA:
· In addition, the MEA is producing a new “sheltered English” version of the mathematics assessment for English language learners who are the newest to our language.
Commissioner Albanese emphasized the need to put Maine’s pursuit of high academic standards for all students into perspective by recognizing that comparatively Maine students exceed national performance levels as documented by the National Assessment of Educational Assessment (NAEP). On the Department’s website is an example from 8th grade Mathematics that shows the percent of students performing in each performance level on the MEA compared to Maine student performance on NAEP exams, as well that of their peers in the nation. The comparison can be accessed at http://www.maine.gov/education/ under New and Hot Topics by clicking on 2001-02 MEA Results or directly at http://www.maine.gov/education/mea/edmea.htm.
Maine students have a history of exceptionally strong performance on national testing over the past decade. In 2000, Maine eighth graders were 3rd in the country in Mathematics, and fourth graders also scored among the top 10 states in the country. In 1998, Maine eighth graders were 1st in the nation in Reading and 2nd in the nation in Writing on the NAEP tests, while Maine fourth graders scored 4th in the nation in Reading. In 1996, Maine’s fourth and eighth graders shared top national honors in Mathematics, with the eighth graders also topping the charts in Science. Similar results were achieved in 1992 and 1994 test administrations. As a result of sustained, strong overall performance on dozens of education indicators, Maine was ranked as the best kindergarten to grade 12 education system in America in 1999, according to the 10th annual report of the National Education Goals Panel.
Commissioner Albanese emphasized that Maine schools are just at the beginning of the pursuit to achieve the high academic standards set forth in Learning Results. It is clear from the state summary results presented in this information release that schools and students are being challenged by the new standards. Commissioner Albanese said he understood the impatience of citizens to see academic gains; however, he encouraged continued support of schools as they move ahead with implementation of changes in curriculum and instructional approaches necessary to meet Learning Results performance expectations.
In order to support program design and the adaptation of instruction, extensive data is returned to local schools, including district reports, school reports, classroom reports, and individual student reports. Detailed information is provided on the performance of students on every type of test item, and schools even receive copies of actual student essays on CD-ROM so that teachers can themselves compare student scores to the work produced by the student. Thus, teachers can be provided with rich information to judge areas of strength and weakness for each student or the whole class, and to modify their instruction and lessons accordingly. The MEA tests produce a broad array of statewide data that breaks down student and school performance by demographic group, school size and other features, types of instructional strategies used, home characteristics, and more that provides insight into best practices.
Press materials, including graphs with statewide data tables showing each grade and Learning Results content area tested over the period, as well as the percent of students scoring at each performance level, are available on the web at http://www.maine.gov/education/ under New and Hot Topics by clicking on 2001-02 MEA Results or directly at http://www.maine.gov/education/mea/edmea.htm. A link to the spreadsheet of individual school performance statewide can be accessed from the same link.
The summary scores for each school may also be found on the Maine Department of Education web-site at http://www.maine.gov/education/ in another format. If interested in the performance of a small number of schools or districts click on School Profile for a summary chart of each school or district.