AMP test makes early exit in Alaska

After a second technical error paused standardized testing across the state last week, officials at the Department of Education and Early Development decided it was enough and eliminated the test one year ahead of schedule.

“I am not willing to keep Alaska’s schools in this state of uncertainty given that we do not know if or when we can resume testing successfully,” said Susan McCauley, the education department’s interim commissioner. “We cannot allow students’ learning to continue to be disrupted. Teachers need to know how to prepare their lessons for the week ahead. Superintendents and principals need to know how to arrange their schools’ schedules and staffing.”

Students across the state began taking the electronic version of the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) on Tuesday, when a fiber optic cable was severed 2,000 miles away at Kansas University. The university houses the Achievement and Assessment Institute where the AMP is generated for schools in Alaska. It also offers testing for students in 15 other states.

After institute officials made some arrangements, testing resumed on Thursday, then testing paused all over again.

Marianne Perie, the project director of the Kansas Assessment Program, said her people planned to work around the clock during the weekend to make sure everything was ready to go again today, but McCauley wasn’t willing to gamble with students’ and teachers’ time.

“The vendor worked hard to repair the damage due to the cut fiber cable and to ensure the bandwidth was no longer an issue,” McCauley said. “All of that, though, is just hypothetical. We’re not going to know. I’m not willing to have students engage in testing that could just shut down and hold teachers in limbo.”

Fiscally speaking, the testing issues caused problems for schools statewide as well, McCauley said. Substitutes at several schools are required to help with administering tests, but if they don’t when the tests will actually work, people are on the clock for no reason.

The AMP test was already on its way out in Alaska schools as the standard measurement for student success. This was supposed to be the last (and only second) year it was administered.

Without the exam, school administrators won’t have a measurement for success for students from last year to this year, and that does worry McCauley who said she believes standardized exams are valuable for informing instruction.

Statewide, an estimated 75,000 students were scheduled to take the exam. In Juneau, only approximately 150 students were in the middle of their exams because it is supposed to be available during a five-week window.

McCauley said moving forward without a standardized exam this year for students is the best thing. Even if the institute were able to reestablish a steady connection, McCauley said other issues with the testing site were presenting themselves and, overall, she does not believe the AMP is the best assessment tool for students.

The education department used $25 million of allocated funds to pay for the assessment institute’s services as part of a five-year contract, with $5 million paid each year. McCauley said she is not sure yet how the state would go about obtaining a refund for the test that was cancelled this year.

“A this point, it’s time to get back to teaching and learning,” she said.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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