AMP testing: New Alaska education head should stay the course

I hope the new education commissioner can reconsider the decision to eliminate the new statewide standardized tests for students, called Alaska Measures of Progress. Admittedly, the AMP tests and reporting could use some tweaking and improvement, but not a complete overhaul, let alone a total replacement. Forget about the financial costs, it's the time lost that is the most upsetting.

For many years, Alaska as a state has scored below average compared to other states on national academic tests. The University of Alaska system has also publicly stated that many Alaska high school graduates are not adequately prepared for college and must take remedial courses during their freshman year to catch up. The Department of Education and Early Development admirably responded to this criticism by rewriting its Alaska State Standards in 2012-2013 to be more rigorous and on par with other high-performing states, with the intent that Alaska students will improve their academic performance and be better prepared to enter college and/or the workforce upon graduation.

In addition to rewriting the academic standards, DEED hired the University of Kansas to build, from scratch, a custom-designed test tailored specifically for the new Alaska academic standards. Students took that test for the first time in spring 2015.

The results were lackluster. In one year, we went from 70 percent of our students meeting expectations (defined as percent proficient in the 2014 Standards Based Assessment tests), to suddenly many of our schools reporting less than 50 percent of their students meeting standards (as defined in Level 3 or 4 of the new AMP tests). Our kids aren't stupid, the teachers are working hard, so what the heck happened?

What happened was Alaska finally increased the rigor of the curriculum they taught to be on par with the rest of America. Unfortunately, one year is not enough time to see the results of this change. It's hard work to educate kids. There are no shortcuts.

It will take time to teach the updated curriculum, and it will take time to tweak the test to provide the data teachers, parents and educators are looking for. University of Kansas offered to make the requested changes to the test reports at their own expense. Why not take them up on their offer?

I have heard that some districts want to have their own tests. That defeats the whole purpose of comparability, not to mention the question of how to afford numerous custom tests. I have heard that some districts want to opt out of the tests all together. That defeats the whole purpose of accountability. And by the way, if we don't have 95 percent participation in a statewide test, we risk losing federal education funding.


I hope that people are not suggesting that we go back to a test format that shows the majority of students are meeting expectations just so we feel good about ourselves. It's hiding behind mediocrity and doesn't do our students any favors in the long term.

Stay the course. Don't cave under the first sign of pressure. Instead, districts should work together and share information with other districts about what is working for them, and support one another with professional development materials. Increasing the state standards showed real vision and leadership. Introducing a computer-based testing format is also the right move to bring 21st century technology into education delivery.

I urge the new education commissioner to seriously consider reversing the decision to eliminate the AMP tests. Our future prosperity as a state depends on having educated children. Don't let us down now when we've worked so hard to get here.

Natasha Von Imhof is running for Alaska Senate, District L. She served on the Anchorage School Board from 2012 to 2015.

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