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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development recently released results Sept. 1 from its Performance Evaluation of Alaska’s Schools standardized tests, which shows a below proficient or far below proficient student majority statewide, and in almost all of the Ketchikan School District.
The state partners with the Data Recognition Corporation to administer the performance evaluation that measures the Alaska English language arts and mathematics standards adopted in 2012, according to the DEED. The assessment was administered for the first time this spring to students in grades three through 10.
The statewide results for these grade levels shows 61.6 percent of students are below proficient or far below proficient in English language arts, and 68.17 percent below proficient or far below proficient in mathematics.
As a whole, the Ketchikan School District fared slightly better than the rest of the state, with 56.39 percent below or far below proficient in English language arts, and 65.35 percent below or far below proficient in math.
All of the elementary schools in the district, including Fawn Mountain Elementary, Houghtaling Elementary, Ketchikan Charter School, Point Higgins Elementary School, and the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, tested above state averages in both subject areas.
The Tongass School of Arts and Sciences is the only Ketchikan-area school that had a majority of students test advanced or proficient in math, with 53.25 percent of its students categorized as advanced or proficient in math.
The results show the district is above statewide results in English language arts in every school except Revilla Blended School — which falls at 65.91 percent below or far below proficient.
However, Revilla had a test participation rate of 91.7 percent, while most other schools had participation rates of more than 96 percent. The participation rate is the percentage of a school’s students who participated in the evaluation.
According to Trevor Shaw, president of the Ketchikan School Board, the district’s overall participation rate is several percentage points above the statewide average participation — at a little over 98 percent, where statewide participation was at 90 percent.
The PEAK results also show Ketchikan High School, Fast Track Virtual School and Schoenbar Middle School all tested above state levels in English language arts but below state levels in mathematics.
In English language arts, 41.13 percent of students at Kayhi were advanced or proficient and 58.87 percent were below or far below proficient; at Fast Track, 46.67 percent were advanced or proficient and 53.33 were below or far below proficient; and at Schoenbar Middle School, 43.27 percent of students tested proficient or advanced, and 56.73 percent were below or far below proficient.
Math seems to be a more difficult subject for the students, as four of the district’s high school and middle school level programs fell below state averages.
At Kayhi, 80.14 percent of students were below or far below proficient in the subject, and at Fast Track Virtual School 76.67 percent of students were below or far below proficient. However, Fast Track had the lowest participation rate at 81.08 percent.
Revilla High School tested at 88.64 percent of its students below or far below proficiency in mathematics, and Schoenbar Middle School at 70.07 percent below or far below proficient.
Overall, 862 students in Ketchikan School District grades three through 10 are below or far below proficient in math, where 457 students are advanced or proficient. In English, 746 students are below or far below proficient, and 577 are advanced or proficient.
Statewide, 47,878 students are below or far below proficient in math, and 22,359 are advanced or proficient. In English language arts, 43,306 students are below or far below proficient, where 26,991 are considered advanced or proficient.
The DEED website provides data for two broad categories: proficient/advanced, and below proficient/far below proficient.
The results released to the district, however, are broken down into four narrower categories: advanced, proficient, below proficient and far below proficient. Some of that information was obtained by the Daily News.
The more detailed data shows in language arts, 6.8 percent of students in the district were advanced, 36.7 percent were proficient, 35.1 percent were below proficient and 21.3 percent were far below proficient.
In math, the results show 2.6 percent of students tested advanced, 32.1 percent were proficient, 54.2 percent were below proficient and 11.2 percent were far below proficient.
State education officials respond
Education officials in the State of Alaska have responded to the results, including Alaska Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson.
Johnson said in a statement many schools are already “implementing positive changes that will provide students more opportunity to increase their learning.”
“We must be dissatisfied with these results, and yet, we have even more opportunity now than ever before to support student learning,” Johnson said.
Erin Hardin, an information officer for DEED, said in an email to the Daily News the PEAK results are one part of the overall picture about how well students and schools are performing.
“It is important that PEAKS scores be used in conjunction with other measures of student learning such as classroom work, grades and other local assessments,” she said in an email.
In Ketchikan, the School Board president and school district superintendent, as well as the curriculum director, have examined the results and are looking at what steps to take in the future.
Shaw said there is a crisis of these types of standardized assessments in Alaska. The test before PEAK had numerous issues being administered and evaluated, he said, which resulted in PEAK being created.
According to Shaw, because there hasn’t been consistency in these tests over the years, there is nothing to compare the PEAK results to. The district is going to take several steps moving forward.
“The results so far are concerning but we’re going to do the best that we can as fast as we can to figure out where the issue lies,” Shaw said. “Just on face value, it’s definitely worrying to see so many of our students below proficient, either below or far below.”
He said it’s concerning to him that in grade 10, it shows the proficiency in math being 8 percent.
“I just have to wonder if that’s really accurate because if it is accurate, that means 146 of our students don’t know how to do math to the standards that the state and our school district has established,” Shaw said.
Ketchikan School District Superintendent Robert Boyle said Tuesday that the concern at this time that the district is below average is misguided because of how the test is measured.
“The reason I say that is, the cut scores were established by a committee of people who are not psychometric experts,” he noted. “They’re people who came together and said, ‘We think this score would be the appropriate place to put the cut score.’”
He explained this reasoning further, saying statewide and in the district, sixth-graders tested at a much higher proficiency than seen in any other grade.
“Are sixth grade students mystically better than everybody else in the state? I don’t think so,” Boyle said. “I think that the cut scores were established differently for grade six.”
The cut scores to which he is referring to regards where the cutoff for each category lie. For example, a score of 400 through 470 can be considered far below proficient, 471 through 499 can be below proficient, 500 through 529 can be proficient and 530 to 600 can be advanced.
Beth Lougee, the curriculum director for the Ketchikan School District, said the district will be “drilling down” in the coming months — where they take a look at the school, then the grade, and then each individual student. From there, they will look at the curriculum and see if it aligns with the standards in the state and the district.
The district has until Sept. 29 to distribute student reports to parents.