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School Board Gets Overview of ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Results

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School Board Gets Overview of ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Results
Posted on 09/16/2015
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At its Sept. 15 meeting, the Portland Board of Public Education listened to a presentation on the district’s data from the Smarter Balanced state assessment, a new online standardized test that Maine students took this past spring.

The state released the scores from each school district around the state last week. But state and local officials have emphasized that analysis of the data is complicated for a variety of reasons. One is that the test, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, doesn’t establish a baseline for future analysis because it was a one-time event. Legislation enacted this past June discontinued Maine’s use of the test and the state is currently working through the process of determining a subsequent method of assessment for Maine students.

Becky Foley, the Portland Public Schools Chief Academic Officer, told the school board that the test “is only one data snapshot, because we have not taken this test previously nor will we be taking it in the future.”

Another reason the Smarter Balanced is difficult to compare to previous tests is that it is a more rigorous assessment.

The test differed from other state assessments in that it was online and students needed more advanced computer skills to be able to take it. “That was a change for our students, not only here in Portland but throughout the state,” Foley said.

She noted that “compared to the previous assessments, the percentage of students who are proficient at both the state and district level is lower because of the increased expectations of the test.”

However, Foley said, broad trends can be identified by comparing the district scores to state averages on the Smarter Balanced test and the previous NECAP assessment taken in the fall of 2013 and the MHSA (SAT) taken in the spring of 2014. Click here to see a comparison chart.

“In language arts, the good news is that at the middle school level, we’re above the state average in both sixth, seventh and eighth grades,” Foley told the school board. Also, she said, “the greatest gain was at the fourth grade.”

In addition, Foley said, “in math, we have a lot of good news.” She said all the middle and elementary grade levels showed an upward trend when comparing the two tests.

The Portland Public Schools is unable to draw conclusions about its high school scores because of a substantial decrease in the number of students taking the new test compared to the number of those taking a previous state assessment. For example, in the previous MHSA (SAT) test that district high school students took, the participation rate in math was more than 90 percent, but the district’s participation rate on the Smarter Balanced English Language Arts test was 61 percent.

Foley noted that lack of participation in the test at the high school level was a statewide problem. Portland's participation in the English Language Arts part of the test was higher than the state's average high school participation rate on that part of the test, which was only 60 percent.

“When you have so few students taking the test you have to be really careful about the conclusions you’re drawing,” Foley told the board. She said that going forward, the district will identify strategies to increase the high school participation rate.

The district will continue to further analyze the test results to identify areas of strength and focus on areas needing improvement. Individual schools will be collaborating with one another to share promising practices.

Portland Public Schools Interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker said, “We’d like to recognize our staff for working so diligently to ensure the successful administration of this assessment. Building on this year’s theme of collaboration, I’m looking forward to schools working together to implement the next new state assessment.”

The Smarter Balanced test data can be viewed on the Maine Department of Education website by clicking here.

Questions about the Portland Public Schools’ test data? Contact PPS Chief Academic Officer Becky Foley at (207) 874-8100.