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Education

For the second year in a row, more than half of Alaska students fail to meet grade-level standards

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 5
  • Published September 5

More than half of Alaska's public school students who took this year's standardized tests failed to meet grade-level standards in English language arts, math and science, according to results released Wednesday by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

This year's results, however, are a slight improvement over last year.

In the Anchorage School District, results also improved in 2018 compared to a year ago and crept above the statewide scores.

Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said in an interview he was pleased that this year's statewide results showed "incremental growth."

"Obviously we have a long way to go," he said. "We're not spiking the football and claiming victory."

The statewide tests are administered every year. They're one measure of how schools and school districts are doing but aren't the only measure, said Deborah Riddle, deputy director for student learning at the state education department. The scores shouldn't affect students' grades or placement in classes and don't affect teacher evaluations, she said.

"It's a way to see how we're doing and make adjustments," she said.

This year, students in grades three through nine took the standardized tests in math and English. The test is called Performance Evaluation for Alaska's Schools, or PEAKS. It's the second year students took PEAKS. Before that, students took the Alaska Measures of Progress — a short-lived version of the annual exam that was canceled in 2016.

Students in grades four, eight and 10 took the Alaska Science Assessment. It's the second year for that version of the test too, Riddle said.

A look at the scores

Statewide, 42.4 percent of students scored as proficient or higher in English language arts this year — meaning they met grade-level academic standards. That's up from 39 percent of students in grades three through nine in 2017, the education department said.

(In 2017, 10th-graders also took the English language arts and math tests. They didn't in 2018. That's because a new regulation required that Alaska high school students take the tests only once.)

In math this year, 36.7 percent of students statewide scored proficient or better, up from 33.9 percent of students in grades three through nine last year, according to the education department.

In science, 47.1 percent of Alaska students scored proficient or better, up from 46.5 percent in 2017, the department said.

At the Anchorage School District, 45.6 percent of students scored proficient or higher in English, 40.9 percent were proficient or higher in math and 48.4 percent were at least proficient in science.

Mark Stock, Anchorage's deputy superintendent, called the results encouraging. He also said they're "just one little snapshot in time of what a student is willing to show us on a particular day."

The science test is based on academic standards Alaska adopted in 2006. The education department is in the process of updating the standards, Riddle said.

English and math tests are based on academic standards Alaska adopted in 2012. Those standards are "more rigorous" than the ones they replaced, Stock said.

"We raised the bar," he said. "Our challenge now is to raise our performance to the level of our aspirations."

Across the state, 92 percent of students in grades three through nine took the English standardized test and 91 percent took the math test, the education department said. The science test was taken by 89 percent of students in grades four, eight and 10.

Alaska school districts have until Sept. 28 to distribute student-level score reports to parents.

View more district- and school-level results at education.alaska.gov.

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