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Proposal would require Alaska high school students to take standardized test only once

Alaska students may have to take a statewide standardized test in high school only once, instead of twice, if the State Board of Education and Early Development adopts a new regulation proposed by the state education department.

Under the proposal, Alaska students would take the statewide standardized tests in English and math in grades three through eight and at least once in high school, meeting the requirements under federal law. Currently, Alaska's students take the tests in grades three through eight, then twice in high school, in grades nine and 10.

Students in grades four, eight and 10 would still take the standardized test in science.

Margaret MacKinnon, director of assessment and accountability at the Alaska education department, said public feedback prompted the department to propose revising the state's standardized testing requirements.

"There is some sentiment of not testing any more than you need to," she said.

MacKinnon said saving money was not the primary reason behind the department's proposal. Instead, the proposal stemmed from public feedback as well as the hope for greater flexibility in high school testing.

For instance, she said, the department could decide to move to "end-of-course tests" in high school under the proposed regulation. Instead of requiring all ninth-grade students to take the math exam, it could have students take the test after they completed the relevant classes.

"So they could be testing in different grades," MacKinnon said. "There's a lot of things to think about in terms of making that transition."

The Board of Education is taking public comment on the proposed change to testing requirements through July 12. The public can also give comment during the Board's July 14 meeting, when it's scheduled to decide on the proposal, according to the department.

If the Board approves the regulation, MacKinnon said, the education department could decide to test only once in high school as soon as 2018. That decision also hinges on public comment, she said.

NEA-Alaska President Tim Parker said the statewide teachers union supports reducing statewide standardized testing. He said that while the union understood that the state was testing to get information on Alaska's education system, the tests did not inform instruction. He said teachers regularly administered classroom tests and other assessments to determine what their students did and didn't know.

"The reality is that every teacher who is good at their job — and that's a majority of teachers by far — knows exactly where each of their kids are every day," he said.

The Alaska Parent Teacher Association also supported the proposed regulation, according to its president, Candy Jo Bracken. Bracken said in an email that the PTA supported the development of "strategic assessment systems that eliminate redundant testing and reduce the incidence of over-testing."

The statewide organization that represents school administrators did not respond to request for comment.

MacKinnon said the education department will release students' scores on the 2017 statewide standardized tests in August.

This spring, Alaska students took the latest version of the annual standardized test for the first time. The exam, called Performance Evaluation for Alaska's Schools, or PEAKS, replaced the AMP exam, which the education department canceled in 2016 after only a few days of testing and amid significant technical problems associated with the test creators at the University of Kansas.

The Board of Education is asking for public comment on the standardized test's newly developed score framework. A group of Alaska educators recommended the ranges of scores that would decide whether a student was proficient.

According to preliminary data based on those proposed score ranges, fewer than half of Alaska's students scored proficient on the 2017 math and English standardized tests.

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