Alaska Editorial: Assessments must be meaningful

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2016 1:01am
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

Among the bills filed for the legislative session is a measure to prohibit the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development from administering the Alaska Measures of Progress and Alaska Alternative Assessment tests given to students in school districts across the state.

The AMP test was given to Alaska students for the first time last spring, replacing previous the Standards Based Assessments used to determine academic progress for individual students, schools and school districts. State education officials determined that the SBA standards did not leave students adequately prepared for life after secondary school. According to the Department of Education and Early Development, AMP standards were vetted both by the University of Alaska and 200 state educators, and more than 900 educators reviewed the AMP questions to make sure they matched the standards the test attempts to measure.

The main concern with the AMP test, however, seems to be with the results — specifically, the fact that no one seems to know quite how to interpret them.

Results from the AMP testing were released last fall — to less than stellar reviews. The number of students deemed proficient declined significantly — something Mike Hanley, commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, at the time said was anticipated as school districts adapt to the more stringent standards.

However, officials with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, as well as other school districts around the state, have expressed concerns that the reporting of test results is not useful in driving instructional decisions.

As school district Superintendent Sean Dusek put it in a November email to the Clarion regarding a request to delay the next round of testing, “It makes no sense to take a test if results aren’t useful for instructional decisions.”

Indeed, the $25 million the state is paying for a five-year contract is a lot of money for something educators aren’t finding useful.

Federal law mandates statewide assessments, and there is value in being able to gauge academic progress across a broad spectrum of students. We don’t particularly like seeing politicians get involved with determining academic curriculum, but we do want the Legislature to ensure that the state’s money is being spent wisely.

When students sit down to take the test this spring, their results should be meaningful. A standardized test isn’t the only measure of academic progress, but it should be a useful one.

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