Brewer High School computer technology teacher Andrew Maxsimic helps Stone Therrien on a multimedia project in class last week. Maine students will see their fourth standardized test in less than a decade later this year as Maine switches to a new test. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Maine Department of Education is redesigning the state’s standardized tests so results are available to schools within days instead of months.

When Maine students take the statewide exam later this year — as is currently the plan — it will be the fourth different standardized exam students will have taken in less than a decade. Students in grades 3-8 and in their junior year of high school take exams in math and English as part of a federal requirement.

The department decided to switch to a new test this year after four years of the current Maine Educational Assessment due to the interruption in testing and learning already caused by COVID-19, and the need for teachers and administrators to collect student performance data and act on it faster.

The state last year canceled the annual Maine Educational Assessment after schools shut down and learning went remote in spring.

“We were faced with the choice to revert to our previous system or to strive for an assessment system that could meet federal requirements while also providing useful and timely data for educators to use,” said Kelli Deveaux, the Department of Education’s spokesperson.

With the new test, schools will receive some part of each student’s test results within 24 hours, and teachers can start to use that information to guide instruction immediately. The district-wide performance evaluation will come later.

With the Maine Educational Assessments, which were in place from the 2015-16 school year to 2018-19, results were published three to six months after the test, often after the start of a new school year. That meant teachers didn’t have the chance to make timely changes to help their current students based on their test performance.

The faster assessment will be particularly useful for schools as they make up for any learning losses during the pandemic, said Janette Kirk, chief of learning systems for the Department of Education.

“Given the interruptions to education, and given we’re both remote and in-person, we want to get data in the hands of educators and parents a lot quicker than we typically have to make sure they can best help their students and children,” she said.

The new test scheduled for this year will not mark the last change the department makes to its standardized exams, Kirk said.

Eventually, Maine will also get rid of separate evaluations for English, math and science and instead offer an integrated test that will be more useful in testing students’ real-world knowledge, Kirk said. That change will reflect how students have started learning in classrooms in recent years, she said.

“A lot of educators are currently looking at more integrated instructional approaches, so there’s a lot of collaboration within educators,” she said. “Instruction and curriculum should drive assessment and not the other way around.”

The frequent changes to Maine’s standardized test over the past decade have meant the state can’t use the exam to track students’ long-term performance trends. And with last year’s cancellation, most states are now missing a year of data.

But the Department of Education isn’t concerned about more changes to the state’s standardized tests, Kirk said. Other testing — such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress that tests a sample of students in every state, and schools’ local tests — should allow the state to track students’ performance long-term, she said.

“Every state has had their trendline interrupted because the majority if not all states last year received a waiver from federal assessment,” that allowed them to call off tests, Kirk said. “Maine’s just taken that opportunity to get actionable data in the hands of educators to make those informed decisions and in a faster manner.”

So far, the federal government has not allowed states to cancel their annual exams again this year. If it does, the Maine Department of Education will likely apply for permission to cancel the exam, but still offer the faster version of standardized tests for schools to use for their own data and instructional purposes, Deveaux said.