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PPS’ State Test Scores Show Mix of High Achievement, Challenges

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PPS’ State Test Scores Show Mix of High Achievement, Challenges
Posted on 12/07/2016
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The results from new state standardized tests that students statewide took last spring were publicly released Dec. 7. Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) data for the Portland Public Schools (PPS) shows the district performed on par with the state in both English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. Given PPS’ demographics compared to neighboring districts, this is a considerable accomplishment.

The percentage of the district’s students that exceeded state expectations in ELA and Mathematics surpassed the state. However, significant numbers performed well below state standards, highlighting the need for the district to meet our students where they are and bring them to proficiency.

The value of the latest MEA test data* is limited because it’s the first time for this particular statewide assessment, so it can’t be compared to previous tests. This year’s MEA data involves several tests. Students in grades 3 through 8 took the eMPowerME test. Most third-year high school students were assessed on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT. A small number of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities were assessed on the Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA).

In 2015, students in grades 3 through 12 took the Smarter Balanced state assessment, which was discontinued. Those students previously took the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) assessment before it was replaced by Smarter Balanced.

High school students had previously taken the SAT but that test underwent a major overhaul before students took it this past spring. The changes shifted the test’s focus and format, making comparisons with previous SAT results problematic.

Prior to the public release of the scores, school districts around the state received their data on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, and have had a window since then to check it for accuracy and review it.

Portland is the state’s largest school district and its most diverse. About 33 percent of the district’s approximately 6,800 students speak a primary language other than English at home, with a total of about 60 languages spoken. More than half the district’s students – 55.3 percent – are economically disadvantaged, compared to 45.7 percent of students statewide. In Portland, 41.8 percent of students are members of a racial minority group, whereas only 9.8 percent of students statewide are racial minority students. Also, 23.2 percent of Portland’s students are classified as having limited English proficiency (LEP), but only 2.9 percent of students meet that LEP classification statewide.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana noted that the results comprise just one data snapshot, but said broad trends can be identified districtwide for English Language Arts and Mathematics. He also cautioned against assessing schools or students based on a single test score.

“Overall, our students’ performance is similar to the state’s, but our population is  different,” Botana said. “However, the gap between our highest performing and our lowest performing students is substantial. That reinforces that we need to focus our energy and resources on increasing opportunities in order to reduce that gap. At the same time, we must preserve the programs and services that enable many of our students to reach the highest levels of performance.”

More than 55 percent of PPS students qualify for free or reduced price lunch based on family income. “Our economically disadvantaged students’ performance at the elementary level is similar to the state's, but across the board, there are significantly more economically disadvantaged PPS students in the lowest performance category at both the elementary and secondary level,” Botana said. “However, when you look at our students who aren’t economically disadvantaged, they outperform the comparable group of students in the state by 10 percentage points in both Mathematics and ELA.”

The district plans to further analyze the results to identify areas of strength and focus on areas needing improvement. Individual schools will collaborate with one another to share promising practices. The district’s proposed new comprehensive plan includes a goal to reduce achievement gaps.

The test data released by the Maine Department of Education are posted at: https://lms.backpack.education/public/maine

*Note: The analysis in this article is based on the “draft” testing data the state provided to districts in advance of the public release.