Alaska suspends statewide standardized testing after disruption originating in Kansas

Alaska's education department decided Thursday to suspend a standardized test for students statewide until an out-of-state vendor can assure the testing system is fully functional, but officials said they won't wait forever.

"We want to make sure that we are not delaying or asking schools to wait for an indefinite time," said Elizabeth Davis, administrator for standards and assessments. "We recognize the interruption this causes for teachers and students."

School districts started administering the Alaska Measures of Progress, or AMP exam earlier this week. An outage occurred Tuesday morning when a Kansas construction accident disrupted Internet access to the University of Kansas, where the test was originating.

The Achievement and Assessment Institute, operating out of the University of Kansas, told the Alaska Department of Education that a backhoe severed a fiber-optic cable providing Internet to the campus.

Testing resumed Thursday morning but the system crashed several times, prompting the Department of Education to put efforts on hold once more.

School districts should know how the state plans to move forward no later than Monday, Davis said.

Tuesday was the first day students in grades 3 through 10 were to take computer-based assessment tests in language arts and mathematics, and science assessments in grades 4, 8 and 10. Schools have until April 29 to finish the tests, Davis said. She declined to say whether the state would scrap its plans if the delay carried on longer than expected.

Despite the efforts to continue the AMP exam, the Department of Education announced in late January that the test would be replaced after only two years. The department plans to issue a request for proposals to replace the test in time for the 2016-17 school year.

Still, a second year of testing has merit, said DOE data management supervisor Brian Laurent.

"The test, when it's operational, tests the same content over two years. It will allow for a degree of comparison, so there is some value in the students taking the assessment in 2016 once the system is back up and running again," Laurent said.

Davis added that the new assessment should measure the same standards, so measurements will be made between the new and newer tests.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.