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Education Battle


Maine officials knew the state had flunked its federal education-testing standard when it switched to the SATs for 11th-graders, but they did not know how lonely flunking would be. While only 10 states got full approval for their plans, a mere two ended up in the outright failure column of the five qualification levels - Nebraska and Maine.

It might make Maine feel a little better to see the additional evidence Nebraska must produce to meet the NCLB standards -it seems to have more work to do than does Maine, but who knows? Maine's primary issue is over the use of the SAT, which federal officials do not like and Maine's Education Commissioner Sue Gendron insists Maine will keep. She has said she is willing to augment the test with additional testing material.

Not only is the SAT a test that predicts a student's likely performance rather than, as NCLB demands, one that assesses what they have learned, it has not aligned with the subject matter Maine deemed important in its Learning Results. After the federal Education Department found an assessment by the College Boards of the SAT and Learning Results to show inadequate alignment, Maine hired its own expert, Norman Webb, senior research scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, to review the question.

For language arts, he found the test to be "partially aligned" to the Learning Results. Not great but fixable.

For math, "the analysis indicated that major improvements would be required" for the two to align. "The assessment was judged to have only one or two items corresponding to six of the 11 standards, too few to make a judgment on students' performances related to these standards," he concludes.

Soon after this review, Commissioner Gendron called in teachers to help narrow what was in the Learning Results, focusing on what students were actually expected to know. The opportunity to simply align the standards to the test are obvious in such a situation, but even if this did not happen, it is difficult to accept that the "major improvements" the Webb review says are needed were completed to the benefit of students in so short a time with limited input. (Local schools and their boards, naturally, are almost entirely ignored in this conflict.)

Maine has a couple of weeks to put new information before the federal agency or accept a fine of nearly $144,000 in administrative payments, which would be distributed instead to schools. The federal agency anticipates Maine will not be in compliance for the next school year, which is why it got the maximum possible fine.

As this debate moves forward, local educators should know that this state isn't merely among the many states struggling to make their system work. It's at the bottom, in a conflict with an opponent that is also the referee.

— Editorial
Bangor Daily News


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