After several years of flat scores, Maine students backslid on most sections of the state standardized tests for elementary and middle schools.

Fifth graders made gains in math and writing, but for all other grade levels and subjects, the percentage of students scoring “proficient” or higher held steady or dropped.

The results in eighth grade were particularly poor compared to last year: the proficiency level dropped by five percentage points in both reading and math, and it dropped by 10 points in writing.

The Maine Department of Education released results Monday from the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, tests that students in third through eighth grades took in October. All students in those grades are tested in math and reading, and fifth and eighth graders also take a writing test.

The reading and math results will be used to determine which schools are meeting progress targets in the state’s accountability system and will also be factored into the letter grades that schools receive on the report cards the state will release in May.

Overall, 60.2 percent of Maine students are proficient in math, down from 62.1 percent last year; 69.1 percent are proficient in reading, down from 71 percent; and 48.4 percent are proficient in writing, down from 51.1 percent.

“While I am encouraged to see elementary proficiency remains so high — especially in reading — we cannot accept these troubling declines,” Education Commissioner Jim Rier.

Biddeford Schools Assistant Superintendent Jeff Porter said it’s difficult to derive trends from the test results, particularly this soon after receiving them.

Although Biddeford Primary School gained four percentage points in reading proficiency and five percentage points in math proficiency, the intermediate and middle schools both showed declines in both subjects.

“From year to year, it’s hard to say one school’s up, one school’s down,” Porter said. “We see our schools go up and down.”

Results for the seven schools from Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2 that participated in the tests also showed plenty of variation in growth and decline. Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said district staff will use the NECAP results, along with data from other sources, to tackle the differing needs across the RSU, which includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond.

Hammonds said the tests also are not as relevant as they once were to what RSU 2 students are learning, particularly since the district transitioned to the Common Core State Standards.

“Our kiddos might have been assessed in areas that aren’t in line with the standards we’ve implemented,” Hammonds said.

This was the last year of the NECAP tests in Maine. Starting next spring, Maine students will take Common Core-aligned tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

The Common Core standards, which were adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, are a set of statements about what students should know and be able to do in English language arts and math by the end of each grade. The standards are supposed to be fully implemented in all Maine schools this year.

The Smarter Balanced tests are being piloted in 186 Maine schools this spring, including schools in RSU 2 and Biddeford.

Porter said Biddeford school staff have been able to pull useful data from the NECAP tests, particularly because the district has results going back to 2009. He hopes that the Smarter Balanced tests will be in place for a longer period, at least 10 years.

“I hope that the state sticks with this assessment that’s coming up for a few years,” he said. “Every time you switch tests, you have to start over with a new baseline.”

Because tests are structured and scored differently, results cannot be compared from one to another. That’s the case with the NECAP and the Maine Educational Assessment, which the state used before 2009.

Sandy Prince, superintendent of RSU 14 in Windham and Raymond, said he has not had the chance to dig into this year’s NECAP results. Eventually, they’ll become one of several pieces of information that staff in the district use to set targets for schools, teachers and individual students.

“You need multiple measures to show how you’re doing, either as a district or how a classroom is performing,” Prince said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645 [email protected] Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan