ELLSWORTH — The performance of area students was decidedly mixed for the 2016-2017 school year, according to the latest round of results from the Maine Department of Education.
Students in the Ellsworth School District performed slightly above the statewide average in all areas of the assessment.
Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) and Regional School Unit 25 (RSU 25) both fell below the statewide average in all reported areas, as did Hancock, Otis, Airline CSD and Deer Isle-Stonington.
In Ellsworth, 54 percent of students met or exceeded state expectations in English, 45 percent did so in math and 63 percent did so in science.
Schools in Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Mount Desert all outperformed the state numbers by an average of 20 percentage points in each of the three subject areas.
Taking a closer at the scores school-by-school, a somewhat different picture emerges. Math proved a particularly tough subject in Ellsworth: 32 percent of Ellsworth High School students met or exceeded state expectations — which means 68 percent did not. At the elementary and middle school, 48 percent of students met expectations. (The statewide average was 39 percent.)
In the area of English language arts, 53 percent of Ellsworth High School students performed at or above state expectations, while 55 percent of elementary and middle students did so.
In science, 45 percent of the city’s high school students hit the mark, while 72 percent of elementary and middle school students did so.
The tests, which have been required in one form or another since 1965, are designed to provide the government with detailed demographic information as well as providing a snapshot of students’ progress on math, science and English language arts.
States can decide which tests they want to administer. In Maine, the state uses both the Maine Education Assessment and the SAT, one of the few states to do so. Schools are required to have 95 percent of students participate or they risk losing federal funding (although performance results are no longer tied to the money).
In Ellsworth, students do not necessarily have to pass these tests to graduate, said Curriculum Director Rachel Kohrman Ramos. Ellsworth has a graduation rate of 86 percent, which is on par with the statewide average.
Kohrman Ramos said it’s important to remember not all students thrive in a standardized testing environment and that these exams provide only a “moment in time” look at a student and may not necessarily measure progress, particularly for those students who are making strides but are below benchmarks for their grade.
“I give the qualifier that it is one moment in time. Does it show growth?” Ramos asks. “How have we moved them?”
Kohrman Ramos said the district strives for a balance between over-testing students and providing enough data for teachers to continuously evaluate classes and tailor their instruction. She said teachers conduct assessments throughout the year using anonymous online surveys and one-on-one assessments, among other types of testing, and cautioned against reading too much into the report card numbers.
Kohrman Ramos said it’s also difficult to get an idea of student progress due to changes in the kinds of tests administered over the past five years as well as the fact that Ellsworth was part of RSU 24 until 2014.
“The data has not changed in any significant way, which on the one hand is a little disheartening because you’re looking for huge growth, but we also know that it takes three or four years for the data to work its way into the system,” she said. “We’re going in the right direction.”
She said the Ellsworth school system faces different obstacles than other area schools. “It’s a large school. We take efforts to have personalized learning but we have more students in a bigger program.”
The district has recently overhauled several subject areas, including science and math, and is in the midst of doing so with reading resources.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the gains related to that,” said Kohrman Ramos, adding that the district has been “moving toward proficiency-based education” and is “very proud of its teachers.”
“I’m from out of the state and have been really impressed with the dedication and quality of the teachers in this whole county,” Kohrman Ramos said.