GUEST COMMENTARY: Don't be discouraged about first round of test results

Last spring, Alaska’s public schools successfully administered the state’s new computer-based English and math tests in grades 3 to 10. It represented a new 21st century tool to measure Alaska’s goal of helping our children gain 21st century skills.

Our new assessment, the Alaska Measures of Progress, or AMP, assesses students in rigorous standards that prepare them academically for life after high school. Because our AMP tests are measuring higher expectations, fewer students initially will meet the standards than met our previous, less-demanding standards.

It’s like comparing a baseball player hitting .300 in the minor leagues one year and .240 in the major leagues the following year. The player hasn’t declined in skill, but he’s in a more rigorous league. Under AMP, students aren’t suddenly less skilled and teachers aren’t less capable than before. But they are being asked to meet higher goals.

Our message to Alaskans is: Don’t be discouraged. As educators and students gain more experience in Alaska’s standards, students’ scores will rise. In the meantime, there are several points worth noting: The tests are not pass/fail. Scores represent a point on a continuum of academic growth. Test scores do not affect grades, graduation, or promotion from one grade to another. The only consequence for students is positive: They will receive help in improving their achievement.

Alaska’s public schools are charged with preparing students to meet the demands of tomorrow’s world. The Alaska Measures of Progress is how we learn if that charge is being met. Our former standards and assessments identified many students who scored at the proficient level while other indicators were telling us that they were not well-prepared academically for life after high school.

Nearly two-thirds of Alaska’s job openings will require more than a high school diploma. Yet about half of first-year students at the University of Alaska had to take remedial courses in English or math.

Twenty percent of Alaskan applicants could not pass the military’s English and math entrance exams, and too many could not do the math needed for union apprenticeships. In 2013, a fifth of workers in Alaska were nonresidents, collectively making $2.4 billion. We need to ensure that our students are prepared to fill those jobs.

It is important for Alaskans to keep their eye on the goal: our responsibility to educate Alaskans to hold Alaska’s jobs. We have set our new expectations with that goal in mind. There is a lot of work ahead of us to keep our promise to prepare our students for success. Our teachers and our schools are ready for the challenge. Let’s stay the course with higher expectations. We owe it to our children, and we owe it to Alaska.

09/02/2015 - 2:48pm