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Maine education chief defends standardized test system as it's questioned by feds

In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a student looks at questions during a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Md.
Alex Brandon
/
AP file
In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a student looks at questions during a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Md.

Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin is defending the state's student assessment system as her agency faces questions from the federal Department of Education.

The U.S. DOE recently threatened to withhold nearly $120,000 in funding because it claims that Maine's standardized test over the past few years was not aligned with proper achievement standards.

Makin explained to the legislature's education committee on Wednesday that the state adopted the test, called the NWEA Map Growth assessment, during the pandemic, after years of using other tests that were unhelpful and burdensome.

Makin said it was right to move to the new assessment, which had been used by many schools for decades and offered useful information to assist teachers and families.

"We want to continue to build out this useful assessment system. That gives data to teachers when they need it. That gives families information that they can understand when compared with our standards, and the high expectations of Maine educators," Makin said.

Makin said that while federal officials had warned that the NWEA test wouldn't meet "peer review" standards, the state's former test also didn't meet those standards, and only about a third of all states meet them.

"And we made a decision that essentially created less disruption, more class time, more information for teachers. And we knew we'd probably get our hand slapped on the other end," Makin said.

The department is now planning to move to a new version of the standardized test this spring that Makin says would both meet federal criteria and provide useful information to schools and families.

The Maine Department of Education sent a letter to federal officials earlier this month defending its actions, and Makin said that the state plans to appeal if the U.S. DOE still decides to withhold funds.