Maine Title I funds in jeopardy over assessment data

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The U.S. Department of Education is threatening to withhold a quarter of Maine’s Title I funds after the state failed for two consecutive school years to meet reading/language arts and math achievement standards required by federal law for state assessment systems, according to a letter sent to Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin on Friday. 

The state violated requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for school years 2020-21 and 2021-22, wrote James Lane, senior advisor at the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, in the strongly worded letter. 

“Specifically, the State did not appropriately set and align criterion-referenced achievement standards on their assessments that would indicate to parents when students were exceeding, meeting, or below the state’s content standards,” a department spokesperson told K-12 Dive via email. 

As a result, the state has been designated as “high-risk” for Title I Part A funds and may lose $117,422 federal dollars for fiscal year 2022 if it does not show cause by March 15 for why those funds shouldn’t be withheld.

For now, “the intended withholding will not impact funding to Maine’s schools,” according to the Education Department spokesperson. Maine would be required to distribute the withheld funds directly to local educational agencies in the state. 

In an email to K-12 Dive, a Maine Department of Education spokesperson said, “We believe that we have complied with federal requirements and acted in good faith and that this will be resolved soon.”

For the past two years, Maine has not released standardized assessment data, according to Josh Parrish, spokesperson for the Collaborative for Student Success, which tracks assessment issues. 

“From our perspective, we hope this represents a commitment by USED to hold states accountable for collecting and reporting out data about student learning during the pandemic and as the nation focuses on learning recovery,” said Parrish in an email. 

In 2022, Maine announced it would officially replace its federally required summative statewide assessments with through-year formative assessments, similar to MAP Growth assessments. During the pandemic, the state had already suspended its statewide assessment for formative assessments, according to Parrish. 

The first official administration was set for spring 2023, according to a notice from the Maine Department of Education. Through-year assessments are administered multiple times per school year to compare progress within a cohort of students, while summative assessments reflect students’ knowledge at the end of the year.

The state hoped “this transition will allow us to maintain existing interim assessments and the required summative assessment in fewer assessment administrations.” 

No other state has made this transition, according to Dale Chu, an education consultant and testing expert, and Parrish. And no through-year system has undergone federal review, although ESSA includes an option for states to do so. 

All together, 13 states have made some mention of piloting or considering the use of through-year assessments, said Parrish.

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