Maine’s recently approved state plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law governing elementary and secondary schools, weighs state assessment results heavily into elementary and middle schools' accountability formulas.

In a letter dated Aug. 31, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos approved the plan and thanked the Maine Department of Education for "the important work that you and your staff are doing to support the transition to the ESSA."

ESSA differs from its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, in that it allows for other factors besides state assessments to be used in judging a school's success. But Maine's plan still counts performance and progress on state assessments as 80 percent to 89 percent of elementary and middle schools' "summative scores," which determine whether a school is targeted for interventions. For high schools, state assessment results count for 40 percent of the summative score.

ESSA requires states to include in their school accountability formulas the percentage of students scoring at or above proficient on state assessments, progress in those test scores, graduation rate (for high schools), and the progress of English language learners. It also requires the state to pick one or more indicators of school quality to include in the formula.

Maine has chosen attendance as its school quality indicator, measured as the percentage of students who are chronically absent. Other states have included such factors as post-secondary enrollment; physical fitness; access to arts education; time spent in arts, library, and physical education programs; and surveys on school climate and student engagement.

The weights of each factor in the state’s formula are shown in the table below.


Within the progress score, proficiency on state assessments is factored in again to differing degrees. For schools with more than 75 percent of their students scoring at or above proficient, proficiency would count as 75 percent of the progress score and improvement as 25 percent. For those with up to 25 percent of their students scoring proficient, the progress score would be based 25 percent on their proficiency percentage and 75 percent on improvement in test scores.

Because Maine has changed the tests it uses for state assessments four times in the past decade, it has not been able to compare results year to year at the school or state level. This has shielded schools from interventions for failing schools required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Since the results could not be compared, schools could not demonstrate whether they were making “adequate yearly progress.”

With the current state assessments (“eMPower ME,” developed by testing organization Measured Progress) now in their third year, results can be compared, and sticking with the test long term will mean the plan can be fully implemented.

According to the plan’s timeline, after the 2018 assessments, schools will be given scores based on the state’s accountability formula, and schools performing in the bottom 5 percent will be identified and provided “targeted and specialized support,” including meetings with a school-improvement coach and funding for professional development for staff. A school would have to develop a “school improvement sustainability plan” and demonstrate improvement to lose its designation for targeted support.

Keeping the same test also will allow the state to report to the U.S. DOE its progress toward its goals in terms of proficiency and closing achievement gaps between subgroups of students.

Maine DOE Director of Communications Rachel Paling said in a Sept. 14 email that Maine’s ESSA team is currently using "legacy data" in the accountability formula with indicators weighted according to the approved plan. This means that until the 2018 test results are available, the department is using data from different tests in the accountability formula.

"It is Maine’s intention, once three years of consistent data is available and through consultation with stakeholders, to revisit the weights to ensure the appropriate schools within the state are receiving the necessary supports related to the challenges they are experiencing," Paling said.

Though parents have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires at least 95 percent of students take the test. According to the state plan, Maine schools with between 75 percent and 94 percent of its students participating will be required to submit a plan to improve participation. Schools with less than 74-percent participation will be required to provide evidence of implementing such a plan.

Maine’s plan sets as its long-term goals to reach by 2030: graduation rates at 90 percent or greater, a reduction by half of the percentage of non-proficient students in the state, and narrower achievement gaps between subgroups. In a national peer review of the plan, commenters said the goals were “sufficient, but not significant,” because some subgroups of students are already above or close to the 90-percent graduation rate, and although the state aims to narrow achievement gaps, they will not be eliminated. For example, a long-term goal is for 70 percent of white students but only 58-percent of black students to be proficient in math by 2030.

ESSA also requires states to determine whether there is a need to offer the state assessments in languages other than English. Maine initially had set a threshold of 3 percent to define native languages “present to a significant extent,” that would require a test in that language, but then adjusted that to the most prevalent non-English language. As the native language of 1.2 percent of the state student population, Somali is the most prevalent, and the state has begun to plan for translation and adaptation of its assessments into Somali. The plan indicates math assessments would be offered in Somali in 2018; however, Paling said in an email Sept. 14 that is not the case.