AUGUSTA — Maine elementary and middle school students performed better this year on tests of math and reading, but worse in writing.

Results were mixed for Augusta-area school districts, but more made gains than suffered losses.

Maine released state, district and school reports on Wednesday from the October round of testing for the New England Common Assessment Program, known as NECAP.

In math, 63 percent of Maine students scored proficient or above, compared to 61 percent last year. In reading, 72 percent were proficient or higher, up from 69 percent.

In writing, however, the percentage of students scoring proficient or above dropped to 45 percent, from 48 percent last year.

NECAP is a standardized test that assesses math and reading ability for students in grades three through eight and writing for fifth- and eighth-graders. This is Maine’s third year using NECAP, which is also taken by students in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Wednesday that the other NECAP states are also seeing writing performance lag behind in math and reading.

“It is something that we are working on,” Connerty-Marin said. “Writing, of course, is closely tied to reading. And while our reading proficiency is better, we have been concerned for several years about reading.”

Maine students’ reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have been flat in recent years, Connerty-Marin said, and there are early indications of a downward trend.

The Maine Department of Education is developing a state literacy plan for identifying and sharing best practices, which is part of the department’s recently released strategic plan.

NECAP data, along with results from the Maine High School Assessment, are used to determine whether schools are making adequate yearly progress in raising achievement, as defined under the federal No Child Left Behind.

Maine education officials plan to submit a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education later this month to be released from some requirements under No Child Left Behind, in particular the requirement that all students reach proficiency by 2014.

States applying for waivers have to design their own accountability systems, which will continue to involve annual testing for all students. Schools also analyze NECAP results to adjust their instruction.

Their ability to address problems, however, is restricted by the fact that the NECAP results are now arriving nearly four months after students took the tests.

“It’s a little bit late,” Connerty-Marin said. “It’s not that it’s without value, but on an individual student or class level, it’s not nearly as valuable as having immediate results.”

That’s part of the reason Maine will use a computer-based test starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

Maine is one of 28 states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing the new system of testing. It will be based on the national Common Core curriculum that Maine recently adopted for language arts and math.

The tests will be designed to adjust the difficulty of questions as students answer right or wrong, Connerty-Marin said. They also will assess skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving.

In addition to an official annual test, there will be intermediate tests that teachers can use to track students’ progress.

“What we’re excited about is that with the move to Smarter Balanced, students will take the tests electronically,” Connerty-Marin said. “And we’ll be able to get results much more quickly, which means we’ll be able to use the data in real time.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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