News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 19, 2018
Student test scores prompt discussion

by Tevlin Schuetz

During its monthly meeting on April 3, the CSD Board discussed Maine Education Assessment testing results at the elementary school.

Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington presented the board with a summary analysis of student results in English Language Arts, Math, and Science in grades 3 through 8.

“We were not happy with those scores,” Elkington said. “It appears that a number of our students start behind and stay behind.”

Elkington said students who start with lower test scores rarely advance to the next score level after a single school year; it is a two-year process for them to catch up and their performances to improve.

Average scores in all subject areas decreased, Elkington said, with Science and ELA aggregate results slipping by 2 percent.

In ELA, “All grades need to work on Reading,” Elkington said.

Overall, student scores in Math are more problematic, decreasing by 9 percent, Elkington said. Only 17 percent of students tested at or above expectations, which is down from 26 percent the previous school year, he said.

More specifically, the percentage of students in grades 5 and 6 whose Math scores stayed the same or increased was just 53 percent, which is a concern, Elkington said. He also cited Geometry as a weak content area for 3rd and 4th graders.

Elkington said there will be a lot of work focused on Math curriculum mapping over the summer as well as instructional and professional development for next year.

While Elkington’s report illustrated a need for improvement in several areas, it also revealed strong student scores in the middle level grades, especially grades 6 and 7. Most students—84 percent—received Math scores that stayed the same or increased, and 100 percent of students’ ELA scores stayed the same or increased in those grades.

Elkington shared a finding by elementary school principal Tara McKechnie: “Some of our students who may have not tested well in Math or ELA have some of the best scores in Science,” she said, adding that some students seem to do better with hands-on learning and the spoken word instead of the written word.

Elkington addressed the testing process itself as well as how teachers use the resulting data. From a technical standpoint, school staff will be continuing to improve how they assist students in taking the assessments online.

“Some kids have trouble typing,” Elkington said, which can hinder their performances.

The practice of how data collected from the assessments is used to inform instruction and individual student-centered interventions needs to be refined—a goal Elkington said he hopes to reach by the end of the summer.

A discussion of the value of MEA testing and the importance of motivating students followed Elkington’s presentation.

Elkington cited administrative culture as an important factor, noting that “follow through” is critical. This has been a challenge on the Island, given the changes in administrative personnel at the elementary school in recent years.

“We’re on our third principal in four years,” he said, noting turnover at both schools.

“Standardized assessments [are] an opportunity to perform,” Mckechnie said, and she explained how the experience and process students undergo during test-taking have long-term benefits because students will likely be exposed to more intense educational testing later in their scholastic careers.

“There are all types of opportunities in life that you can’t have if you can’t perform,” she said.

Addressing some of the challenges of the assessments, McKechnie said the timing of the tests during the school year is problematic, and she gave the example of Geometry curriculum. It is taught near the end of the school year, but the MEAs are administered mid-way through the year, so students struggle through that part of the testing, she explained.

Board vice chairman Stephen York cited a recent article in the Ellsworth American, which listed Deer Isle-Stonington results alongside those of other districts, such as Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth. He expressed his disappointment with how the information was portrayed.

“I don’t think the press… understands the purpose of testing,” York said. “Data is supposed to inform instruction… This is not a report card on a school.”

York said any comparison between Southwest Harbor or Bar Harbor and the Island “is apples to oranges,” given the vastly different median incomes and socio-economic conditions between the towns.

Addressing the many programs and other responsibilities to which teachers must attend in addition to the job of teaching curriculum, York spoke in support of school staff’s ongoing efforts to improve.

“Teachers are asked to do more than I have ever seen during the history of teaching in my life time,” he said. “The constraints on the teacher’s day are enormous… Many things at the school are being done right.”