June 25, 2018
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Maine among lowest states for school progress, Harvard study finds

BDN staff reports

U.S. students are making slow but noticeable progress compared with students from around the world, a new report from Harvard University says, but Maine students are lagging behind in growth, ranking second-lowest in the nation for improvement.

Since 1992, Maine outgained only Iowa on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next. Maryland led the nation, with Florida second and Delaware in third place, the report found.

Forty-one states had participated in the NAEP’s long enough to be included in the study.

In 2010, authors Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann note, “only 6 percent of U.S. students were found to be performing at the advanced level in mathematics, a percentage lower than those attained by 30 other countries,” and only 32 percent of U.S. 8th-graders were found to be proficient in mathematics, “placing the United States 32nd when ranked among the participating international jurisdictions.”

And while 24 of the countries participating in the study trailed the U.S. rate of improvement, an equal number appear to be improving at a faster rate. “Nor is U.S. progress sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world,” the authors warned in the study, called “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance.”

Most troubling for states such as Maine is that states with “the largest gains are improving at a rate two to three times the rate in states with the smallest gains,” the study says. And even when taking into account that the states with some of the largest gains began further behind in performance than higher-performing states, the authors conclude that “initial level of performance explains only about a quarter of the variation among the states.”

They also note that the variation in per-pupil spending is not significantly correlated with the performance gains.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen issued a statement on the study Tuesday:

“The findings of this study are truly disappointing, but they are consistent with what we have been saying for some time — while Maine’s test scores are high for the nation, we are just not moving the needle, and as this study makes clear, other states are making considerably more progress.”

Bowen said Maine has been studying what high-performing states are doing to help formulate changes.

“We know, for instance, that effective teachers are the most important in-school factor in student achievement, so we passed a comprehensive bill around educator effectiveness that we are now working to implement,” the statement said. “We know high-performing systems have high academic standards, so we are also working with districts throughout the state on implementing rigorous new standards in English language arts and mathematics, and preparing for the implementation of new science standards.”

States that made the largest gains in student performance tended to see the greatest reduction in the number of students performing at the lowest levels, the report said.

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