State asks feds for waiver after testing failure

With the school year over and no statewide test to show for it, Alaska education officials are sending something akin to an “out sick” note to the federal government.

They’re putting together a waiver request to send to the U.S. Department of Education to avoid penalties for failing to meet federal testing requirements this past school year.

The state Department of Education and Early Development continues its claim that technical failures by the testing agency Achievement and Assessment Institute caused students statewide to miss out on standardized testing, thereby causing the state to fail to meet federal requirements.

All states must annually test third through eighth graders, and at least once in high school, on language arts and mathematics assessments, according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Fourth, eighth and 10th graders must also complete a science achievement measurement.

Eric Fry, an information officer for the state education department, said the state could be fined for missing the assessment, but he’s hopeful a waiver will sidestep the penalty.

Students tried to take the electronic version of the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) in early April, but screens went blank across the state when a fiber optic cable was severed in Kansas where the test is managed. Alaska’s Director of Assessment and Accountability Margaret MacKinnon said educators tried administering the test again later in the week after the Kansas institute tried to fix all the glitches — no sound, questions out of sequence, and answers not being saved. In the end, Susan McCauley, the education department’s interim commissioner, said she was not confident students could complete the test without more interruptions. McCauley decided to sever ties with the testing institute.

This was only the second year students faced the AMP test, and it was in its final year because state officials decided it wasn’t the best measurement of success.

Fry said a precedent exists for states facing these types of testing issues.

“We’re not the only state to go through something like this,” Fry said.

During the 2014-15 school year, Nevada couldn’t complete statewide testing, also because of technology issues, and sent a waiver in January to federal authorities. The waiver was granted two months later.

Alaska education officials plan to send a waiver sometime after July 7. In the meantime, public comment on the waiver request can be sent eric.fry@alaska.gov.

MacKinnon said the state will also stay busy during the waiver process reviewing proposals for a new test that students can expect to take in the spring of 2017.

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