AUGUSTA, Maine — A charter school in its first year of operation has drawn criticism from the state because it failed to administer statewide exams last fall.
Harpswell Coastal Academy is not in compliance with its contract, executive director of the Maine Charter School Commission Bob Kautz said Wednesday. The tests are a state requirement and their results were meant to be used by the commission in its review of the school.
“They have failed to conduct testing as required in their contract, and it’s getting close to the end of the year,” Kautz said. “The commission is getting concerned.”
The school had indicated in its contract that it would use the New England Common Assessment Program, a test administered at all traditional elementary and middle schools in Maine, to measure student progress.
But because of a misunderstanding, the school failed to administer the exam, said Head of School John D’Anieri.
“I thought the NECAP was only in fifth and eighth grade,” he said. Harpswell has only enrolled sixth and ninth graders, so he did not think the students needed to take the test this school year. There are approximately 30 students in grades six and nine. It will eventually be a grade 6-12 school, so it is phasing students into its middle and high school one year at a time, D’Anieri said.
“Students enrolled in grade 3-8 and high school are required to participate in a state assessment program,” said a letter sent to D’Anieri from the Maine Department of Education’s chief academic officer, dated March 27. “Our review of Harpswell Coastal Academy’s assessment results exposed an absence of data, suggesting a lack of participation.”
By the time D’Anieri had realized his mistake, the window for taking the NECAP had closed.
The oversight first came to the Charter Commission’s attention in November, when members conducted a 90-day review of the school and issued a report of findings.
The report reiterated D’Anieri’s misunderstanding.
“With the NECAP testing designated on HCA’s performance indicators as the choice of assessment for the first year, this was not possible since those tests are submitted to 5th and 8th graders respectively,” it said. “Since HCA has enrolled only 6th and 9th grades assessments have been an oversight.”
The report also directed Harpswell to come up with another form of assessment.
As an alternative, Harpswell selected the Accuplacer, a test that is usually used by colleges to place students in appropriate courses. Maine’s community colleges use it to determine whether students need to take remedial courses.
“Cost was a factor, but not the only one,” said D’Anieri, explaining why the school chose that exam. The Accuplacer is cheaper for schools to administer than the Northwest Evaluation Association exam, which was also considered.
Kautz said that commission members raised questions about whether the Accuplacer is the appropriate test at a meeting with school officials in February, and again at the Charter Commission meeting on Tuesday.
“We’re not sure that we can get accurate information in regard to establishing baselines and being able to ascertain growth,” he said. Whichever test the school administers will have to be used each year for the duration of the school’s 5-year-contract so that student progress can be measured, Kautz explained.
D’Anieri said the Accuplacer would be a good measure of student growth because it’s used by colleges.
“They’d be getting the very useful feedback on their readiness for college,” he said.
D’Anieri said the commission members’ discussion during Tuesday’s meeting has compelled him to investigate whether he can still administer the NWEA by the end of the year.
“We’ll learn from this,” he said.
“Clearly we made a beginner’s mistake.”