Education officials want to know what Alaskans think about testing, academic standards

Alaska education officials say the state needs a new accountability plan to comply with a new federal law, and they are hosting online conferences starting Wednesday to gather community views.

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development wants Alaskans' ideas on student testing, academic standards and how to hold schools accountable, said Margaret MacKinnon, the department's director of assessment and accountability, in an interview Monday.

The comments will help shape the way the department revamps the state's education plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest version of the nation's law for kindergarten through high school that replaces No Child Left Behind and gives greater flexibility to states and local school districts.

"It's a major shift in the law and we're trying to take advantage of the opportunity that it provides and really ask people, 'What will be best for our state?' " MacKinnon said.

The education department has scheduled five online conferences over the next month. People can attend any conference they choose. During each, there will be an overview of the new federal law and an online tool that participants can use to provide ideas and recommendations, MacKinnon said.

Similar outreach efforts are taking place throughout the country. The new education law will fully go into effect for the 2017-18 school year.

MacKinnon said Alaska's education department hopes to have key ideas for the state's education plan developed by late fall 2016, though that deadline could be extended.

The department has already established an Every Student Succeeds Act state plan advisory committee of about 45 people, including leaders from school districts and education organizations.

Work groups will look at Alaskans' feedback from the online conferences and craft plans for the key areas: tests, academic standards, accountability and school support systems.

MacKinnon said the education department will consult with Gov. Bill Walker, lawmakers, the state board of education, Native organizations, educators and parents. 

"We're looking to have a substantial stakeholder process," MacKinnon said. "That takes time."

Meanwhile, she said, the department continues to plan for next school year's statewide standardized test. The new federal law still requires annual standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but it gives states more authority.

The Alaska education department dumped the state's standardized test, Alaska Measures of Progress, last spring amid technical problems and after only two years of testing. MacKinnon said the department will look for a new test developer.

[Related: What's next after Alaska cancels its federally mandated standardized test]

"We're working on that. The idea will be to maintain some flexibility in that process as the stakeholder work continues throughout the summer and into the fall," she said. "You might need to do something in 2017 to get started, but you can build onto an assessment overtime."

For step-by-step instructions on how to attend the online conferences, visit

By Wednesday, the education department will launch a webpage for the new federal law through There, staff will post additional information and options for feedback, said Erin Hardin, program coordinator for the department.

Here's the online conference schedule:

* Wednesday, May 25, 1:30-3:00 p.m.

* Thursday, June 2, 3:00-4:30 p.m.

* Wednesday, June 8, 5:00-6:30 p.m.

* Saturday, June 11, 9:00-10:30 a.m.

* Monday, June 13, 3:00-4:30 p.m.