Administrators favor scrapping new standardized student tests

  • Commissioner Mike Hanley speaks during the Board of Education and Early Development meeting in Juneau on Monday. Hanley and the board heard from school administrators who favor scrapping the new student standardized test after just one year. However, it is too late to use another company for this year’s test. Photo by Michael Penn of the Juneau Empire

JUNEAU — After almost four years of preparation and planning, plus millions of dollars in implementation, Alaska’s new standardized testing scheme appears bound for the garbage can less than two months before students take it the second time.

On Tuesday, Lisa Skiles Parady, director of the Alaska Superintendents Association, told the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development that a majority of the state’s school district leaders favor abandoning the Alaska Measures of Progress testing scheme. The AMP test was administered to Alaska students for the first time last year under a $5 million per year contract with the Assessment & Achievement Institute of Kansas.

Parady presented the results of a superintendent survey that found only five of 42 responding superintendents favored continuing AMP testing. Twenty-three of the 42 said they do not support continuing AMP. The 42 superintendents represent about 80 percent of Alaska’s school districts.

Deena Paramo, superintendent of the Mat-Su Borough School District, participated in the meeting by telephone and called AMP testing a “failure” that “does harm” to Alaska’s school system because it does not provide useful feedback to teachers or administrators.

In an October memo, the Mat-Su school district declared: “the AMP summative assessment is useful for state compliance purposes only. There is no value to districts from the assessment, and in fact learning opportunities are lost as a result of having to administer the assessment.”

Speaking during the meeting, state schools commissioner Mike Hanley said “there’s nobody more frustrated with AMP than I am.”

Hanley, who has been commissioner of education since 2011, oversaw three years of preparation before students took the test for the first time last year. Teachers, administrators and parents helped draft the test, which was prepared for “Alaska’s unique needs” and offered a tougher, more accurate, measurement of students’ knowledge, according to promotional material last year.

While testing went well, problems came afterward.

“We had glitches in the data, we had glitches in the timing,” Hanley said.

Results came back from AAI much later than had been promised, and they didn’t offer the diagnostic information that schools were hoping for.

Marianne Perie, AAI’s Alaska project manager, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in November that the company had made mistakes. Perie did not respond to interview requests by this story’s deadline.

“One of the most accurate comments was just there was such a loss of confidence in this tool that I don’t know how to get it back,” Hanley said.

While Hanley and district superintendents might be frustrated, they have few options at the moment. While Congress has approved and President Obama has signed legislation that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, the state is still required by state and federal law to conduct standardized assessments.

“I just see no other option to meet the letter of the state and federal laws” than to have students take AMP tests this year, said state school board member Barbara Thompson of Douglas.

Hanley said that even though it appears the state is locked into AMP testing this spring, he doesn’t plan to wait on replacing it.

“I’m not interested in continuing down a path that’s not working,” he said.

Rather than immediately seeking alternative proposals from competing testing companies, Hanley said he likely will begin by consulting with school districts to determine what approach works best for them.

“Let’s not wait to pursue a new path forward,” he said.

The state’s arrangement with AAI is structured as five one-year contracts, Hanley said, and he will gather information to determine the final choice the state takes this summer.

In related business Tuesday, the school board voted unanimously (member Sue Hull absent) to take the first step to cancel a program that would have tied teacher evaluations to students’ test scores.

Tuesday’s vote opens a public comment period on a proposal to cancel a one-year prototype phase of the evaluation program. Revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act had required states to begin tying teacher evaluations to student scores starting in the 2015-2016 school year, but Congress replaced No Child Left Behind in December with a law that eliminates the requirement.

01/26/2016 - 11:55am