2017-01-06 / Community

Arundel students are making the grade

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — On Dec. 16, when sixth graders from Arundel who attend the Middle School of the Kennebunks and Thornton Academy Middle School returned to Mildred L. Day Elementary School for an annual dodge ball tournament, Principal Kevin Crowley had a surprise in store.

That special something was not just a tour of the renovated building, showing off to former students just how much the building had changes since they’d moved on.

What Crowley wanted to show the former students were results of the Maine Education Assessment test, which the students had taken in the spring of 2016, while still fifth-graders at the school. And so, Crowley projected the results on the wall of the schools new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math lab, for all to see.

“They were No. 1 in the state in math and No. 2 in the state in reading,” Superintendent Katie Hawes said at the most recent meeting of the RSU 21 Board of Directors.

That ranking is based on the number of students that met or exceeded state standards.

“They were just amazed at their results,” Hawes said. “They were quite surprised. They should be quite proud of themselves.”

The surprise was not only among the students. Parents also chimed in on social media.

“And to think that before school consolidation was mandated in Maine beginning in 2009 and Mildred L. Day School became a part of RSU 21, the school, as a standalone school, tested consistently in the bottom 40 percent of Maine’s elementary schools,” wrote on Arundel resident on a Facebook page dedicated to town news. “I can’t thank the dedicated teachers and administrators enough!!!!”

The comment elicited a host of similar kudos to the students and staff at MLD, as well as musings about how, last spring, there has been a drive to withdraw the town from RSU 21.

“I am incredibly proud of all of our schools,” Hawes wrote, replying via email to an request for comment. “As a district, we scored ninth in the state in math and 12th in the state in reading. In the coming weeks, the administrative team will spend time digging into the data to analyze and reflect upon teaching and learning in our schools. Following that work, our school-based content area and grade level teams will do the same. We can always learn more and remain focused upon educational excellence and continuous growth.”

“I echo Katie’s comments,” Crowley wrote. “The district is a high performing district and the strength of teacher and staff collaboration between all of our schools is a key component in all of our successes. It is also important to keep in mind, this is only one indicator of school success.”

Most Maine students in grades 3-8 completed the English language arts/literacy test, and the eMPowerME math test, as well as the Maine Education Assessment test in science between April 25 and May 6, 2016. At the high school level, only grade 11 students were tested, using the traditional SAT test as the yardstick. Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities were assessed separately, using the Multi-State Alternate Assessment test.

Each test are designed to make students to think critically, in keeping with the new Common Core standards recently adopted into the Maine Learning Results requirements for high school graduation. Those standards attempt to move students away from rote memorization of facts and data and into a realm in which they demonstrate reasoning skills, which, it is felt, will better prepare them for college and, eventually, the modern workforce.

In other words, students had to show they could work through a problem, not just that they knew, or could successfully guess, the answer. Still, many members of the Maine Teachers Association have complained about the time, up to seven hours in some cases, the test is said to take to administer.

According to state data release Dec. 7, of 113 students tested in English Language Arts, 84 percent met or exceeded expectations. At Sea Road School in Kennebunk, the result was 77.8 percent, while at Kennebunkport Consolidated School 71 percent scored a passing grade.

The reading result was 78.1 percent at Kennebunk High School, 65.4 percent at the Middle School of the Kennebunks, and 56.3 percent at Kennebunk Elementary School.

Although those numbers all represent clear positive majorities, the results can be flipped and looked at another way — between 16 and 43.7 percent of RSU students tested either “below” or “well below” state expectations in reading.

In math, the number of MLD students meeting or exceeding expectations was 79.5 percent. Passing results from there were, in descending order: 64.8 percent at both Kennebunk Elementary School and Sea Road School, 63.6 percent at Consolidated School, 60.7 percent at Middle School of the Kennebunks, and 52.3 percent at Kennebunk High School.

Looking at at the data release another way, between 20.5 and 47.7 RSU 21 students per school are failing to achieve expected results in math testing for their grade level.

Still, the RSU 21 results are far ahead of statewide averages, where 49.5 percent of students tested below grade-level expectations in reading, 61.7 failed to make the grade in math, and 40 percent disappointed in science.

According to the Maine Department of Education, results in the SAT and ELA/ literacy test cannot be compared to past year’s, because of changes made in the tests, and in companies chosen to created and administer the tests.

“We are confident in this year’s test results, and hope parents, teachers, administrators, and other interested parties will value and utilize the data gathered through the assessment process,” said Dr. Charlene Tucker, Maine DOE’s Assessment and Accountability Team Coordinator.

“Results were released later this year than initially planned due to the time necessary to establish achievement levels and process data for brand new assessments, as well as the time it takes to build a new reporting platform,” Tucker said. “Maine will use the same assessments and the same reporting system for the 2016-17 year and it is planned for results to be available in the summer of 2017.”

Detailed results of the testing for all Maine schools is available online at https://lms.backpack.education/public/maine.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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