Maine students continued to score above the national average in math and reading on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress test, despite a slight drop in state results since 2013, according to data released Thursday.

“Today’s NAEP results confirm that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that our young people are ready for success in college, careers and life,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The decline in Maine results on this year’s test, referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” reflects national trends, according to Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics.

Average fourth- and eighth-grade math scores declined nationwide for the first time since the test began, she said. Eighth-grade reading scores also declined, to 265 from 268 of a possible 500 points.

“We don’t yet know if this is a trend downward,” said Carr, who said it would take additional years of scores to reveal a pattern. “We need to exercise caution until we see the results from the 2017 assessment.”

Bill Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the NAEP test, noted that many schools nationwide are undergoing “significant changes.” In Maine, recent education reforms include adopting new Common Core standards, adopting new state assessments and shifting to a proficiency-based graduation model.


Bushaw said it would take more nuanced research to tie the NAEP results to the impact of new assessment standards. Overall, however, research has shown that when changes are made, there are often “implementation dips” in performance, he said.

“When lots of different things are happening in classrooms, you can see a decline before seeing improvement,” Bushaw said.

The results do not include district-level data in Maine, but do include breakout profiles on large urban public schools nationwide, which continue to post results lower than the national average.

The one-hour test, which was given to a representative sample of Maine students between January and March, is the only exam that allows comparison of students’ performance across states. The test is not aligned with Common Core standards and the results cannot be compared to state assessment data, experts said.

Paula Hutton, the test coordinator for Maine, said the department is still analyzing the data, but that the dip in math results could be because certain subjects, such as geometry, are taught in different grades under changing state standards.

“In Maine we’ve had more changes in the last eight years than other states,” Hutton said of the reforms, which included changing both the standards and state assessments. “It’s almost been a moving target. It’s been challenging. I would say we need some consistency for a while before we can really get a handle on what effect (the changes) have had.”

In math, 41 percent of Maine’s fourth-graders scored “proficient or better,” compared with 39 percent nationally. Thirty-five percent of the state’s eighth-graders scored “proficient or better,” compared with 32 percent nationally.

In reading, 36 percent of Maine’s fourth-graders scored “proficient or better,” compared with 35 percent nationally, and 36 percent of Maine’s eighth-graders scored “proficient or better,” compared with 33 percent nationally.


Maine’s scores, calculated out of a total 500 points, declined from the 2013 results. The biggest drops were in math, with average fourth-grade math scores at 242, down from 246, and average eighth-grade scores at 285, down from 289. Reading scores for both fourth- and eighth-graders both dropped one point.

The results also break out scores for student groups, including students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty. Statewide, 47 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch in Maine.

Gaps between the scores for students who qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch and those who did not were significant: In eighth-grade math, students qualifying for free lunch had an average score 22 points lower than students who were not eligible. In fourth-grade reading, students qualifying for free lunch had an average score that was 20 points lower.

Hutton said that while those socioeconomic gaps are persistent, Maine’s gap is one of the smallest in the nation. By comparison, California’s eighth-grade math gap is 29 points.

“We’ve always tended to do pretty well there,” she said.


The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests only a representative sample of students. In Maine, the testing pool is about 2,500 to 3,000 students for each test. The testing takes about an hour because each student is given only a few problems.

The math and reading test is given in odd-numbered years, and tests in other subjects, such as science and writing, are given in even years.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is affiliated with the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Also Tuesday, Maine business leaders working to improve education released their third annual report tracking the state’s progress on 10 key education benchmarks, including the state’s NAEP scores.

The annual report, issued by Educate Maine, looks at public data on benchmarks from pre-K enrollment to college graduation. This year’s report showed an improvement in the number of Mainers with college degrees, but highlighted the achievement gap between low- and higher-income students in NAEP results.

“Maine schools are good … This report reminds us that good isn’t good enough,” said Chris Hall, chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.


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