Blowing the whistle on Maine’s flagrant fouls with testing

Blowing the whistle on Maine’s flagrant fouls with testing

By Dale Chu

I’ve made no bones about Uncle Sam’s laissez-faire approach to state testing throughout the pandemic, so count me as pleasantly surprised at the news last Friday that the U.S. Department of Education (USED) lowered the boom on the state of Maine, one of two states that have still not released statewide test results for 2022.

Here’s what happened: In a sternly worded letter sent from USED’s James Lane to Maine’s Commissioner of Education Pender Makin, the Department called the Pine Tree State to the mat for failing to meet federal requirements regarding annual testing for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. As a result, Lane says USED is taking two actions against the state. First, the feds are placing Maine’s Title I, Part A grant award on “high risk” status. Second, they will “withhold” 25 percent of the Maine Department of Education’s (MDE) Title I, Part A allocation for State administration, which works out to $117,422.

When it comes to annual testing, this isn’t the first time Maine has gotten sideways with the feds. In response to Covid, Maine shelved its state test in favor of NWEA’s MAP Growth test, the only state I’m aware of that’s done anything of the sort. The new “Maine Through Year” assessment would seem to reflect the broader national fascination with “through year” or “through course” exams. Indeed, Makin has said that the state’s new test is shorter and provides scores faster.

But there’s a (big) fly in the ointment, so says the Center for Assessment:

No through-year assessment system has yet been implemented statewide with results acknowledged as acceptable for use comparable to end-of-year summative assessment scores… A single through-year assessment might be used either for summative or instructional purposes, but should not be used for both…

Maine clearly hasn’t gotten the message, but Uncle Sam has and he’s thrown down the yellow flag. So where do things go from here? Lane has given the state a couple of weeks to provide a written response as to why the money shouldn’t be withheld along with a longer list of conditions that must be met to remove the “high risk” designation.

There’s a symbolic power to the feds taking this action. While the dollar amount is miniscule, Uncle Sam can throw his weight around in other ways and it’s heartening to see him doing so on behalf of Maine’s students even if it is at the eleventh hour. State officials are obviously no fans of standardized tests, and would have been more than happy to deep-six them permanently if the feds had given them the green light to do so. Let’s hope USED keeps the momentum going to ensure more states follow through on their statutory obligations.

For more on the current state of play with state testing nationwide, click here.

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