Maine Education Association seeks moratorium on new standardized tests

Posted April 02, 2014, at 7:03 p.m.
Lois Kilby-Chesley
Contributed photo
Lois Kilby-Chesley

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Education Association is calling for a moratorium on new standardized tests scheduled to be given to students next year as part of the state’s implementation of the Common Core, education standards which have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia.

The MEA’s board of directors voted last weekend to push for a moratorium on the use of new standardized tests designed to measure students on their mastery of the Common Core, which is meant to make school more rigorous for students. The tests will be developed by Smarter Balanced, a consortium of 26 states, including Maine, that have agreed to work together to create a Common Core-aligned assessment.

“The MEA supports the current Common Core State Standards with reservation,” the teachers’ organization said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “The MEA has concerns about the development, implementation, developmental appropriateness, over use of assessment, and use of assessment scores in evaluation of students and teachers.”

Samantha Warren, Maine Department of Education director of communications, said the tests are an important tool in measuring whether students are meeting the state’s standards.

“It is the [Department of Education’s] intention to reach out and survey participating schools following the completion of the field test to get feedback, but until then, it would be premature for us to write these assessments off,” she said in an email. Field tests of the Smarter Balanced assessment will take place in schools across the state until June.

The vote by the MEA board of directors came after the president of the National Education Association called for states to change the way the standards are implemented.

“In far too many states, implementation has been completely botched,” a statement released in February by National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said. “Seven of 10 teachers believe that implementation of the standards is going poorly in their schools.”

He said that teachers are not being consulted by lawmakers on how to apply the more rigorous standards in classrooms.

“In fact, two-thirds of all teachers report that they have not even been asked how to implement these new standards in their classrooms,” Van Roekel said.

The new tests are expected to be administered through a computer program for the first time next spring. They will replace the New England Common Assessment Program, which has been used to test students in grades three through eight since 2009, and the SAT, which has been used to test students in grade 11 since 2006.

These exams satisfy a federal law that requires students be tested in order to ensure school accountability.

The MEA board of directors also voted for the “immediate end to high-stakes standardized testing.”

MEA President Lois Kilby-Chesley said that means an end to the use of standardized tests to evaluate the progress of students, teachers and school districts.

“It’s not that we’re totally against standardized testing,” she said. “But for the present time, it’s become the focus of what’s been happening in schools. So what we need to do is just stop.”

“These tests should be used to help inform our practice, but that’s not what they’re being used for,” said Amanda Cooper, an English and social studies teacher at Gorham Middle School and member of the MEA board of directors.

The stakes of standardized tests are rising in Maine. Last year, the Department of Education began using students’ test scores to determine letter grades for schools and districts in a new report card system.

The Department of Education has proposed that test scores make up a minimum of 20 percent of new teacher and principal evaluations, which are scheduled to be implemented in the 2015-16 school year. The MEA has pushed for 10 percent, Kilby-Chesley said

Teacher evaluations have been debated in the state Legislature this week. On Monday and Tuesday, the House and Senate voted to attach an amendment to a teacher evaluation bill that would give school districts full control over how much student test scores will be weighted on the evaluations.

The MEA board of directors also called for more resources to implement the computer-based testing system and for the flexibility to change the standards year-to-year. In addition, the group will host teacher-led workshops on how to “work through the standards.”

The first workshop will be 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, at the Keeley’s Banquet Center in Portland.

 

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