School district reviews AMP results, seeks delay in next test

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, November 14, 2015 9:34pm
  • News

Despite its students being among the state’s top performers in the first round of testing, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators want to delay Alaska Measures of Progress and Alaska Alternate assessments.

They join a statewide group of school district leaders asking the State Board of Education and Mike Hanley, commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, to send the assessment back to the testing vendor, the Achievement and Assessment Institute, to revise and refine before testing students again.

“Until the reporting and the instructional usefulness concerns are adequately addressed, the implementation should be delayed,” wrote Superintendent Sean Dusek in an email. “It makes no sense to take a test if results aren’t useful for instructional decisions.”

Individual results for the 54 public school districts, where roughly 73,000 students in grades three through 10 took the test last spring, were released Nov. 9. Superintendents and principals received the results for review a week before the release.

A first set of the five results reports were initially released to the Department of Early Education and school district superintendents at the end of October, but were returned after being deemed inadequate.

In an official statement to the Department of Early Education, the superintendents association asked for increased accountability.

The statement said the association asked the state to “initiate a comprehensive and collaborative review of the entire system,” due to the result reports, which have no ability to drive classroom instruction, nor accurately inform “public understanding of student achievement.”

The state of Alaska has a $25 million, five-year contract with AAI, which is based out of the University of Kansas.

“We agree with the Alaska Superintendents Association that AAI has further work to do,” said Kenai Peninsula School District Assistant Superintendent of Instruction John O’Brien.

Hanley announced the results at a public meeting and teleconference Nov. 9.

The test ranks students on a one-to-four scale, with one — the lowest score — meaning a student has significant gaps in their knowledge of state standards, and four indicating proficiency. On average, students statewide received level 2 for the first tests on English Language Arts and math.

Hanley said lower scores were to be expected in the first year. He said he “would have really questioned ‘Have we really raised the bar?’ in this new trajectory of learning,” if the results were in the 3-4 range.

The Kenai Peninsula School District’s median scores were above the state average on both the English Language Arts and math assessments in all grade levels, and slightly above the other “Big 5” school districts, which include the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, the Anchorage School District and the Juneau School District, said O’Brien. While the results are encouraging, comparisons between school districts are not useful and somewhat arbitrary at this time, he said.

It takes several years before a new assessment accurately reports on student achievement, O’Brien said. Educators need time to effectively implement the test and students need time to comprehend the new standards and expectations, he said.

Essentially, the school district’s students have only been learning the curriculum that supports the new assessment for one year, said school district test coordinator Tim Vlasak. The more rigorous AMP standards were adopted by the state in 2012, right after the school district had completed the six-year review, and switched out instructional materials for English Language Arts, he said.

“Textbooks, and other resources never align 100 percent with anybody’s state standards,” Vlasak said, “because they (instructional material producers) are trying to sell to the biggest buyers, Texas and California.”

Still, the school district had to ensure what teachers were using in the classroom was effectively teaching the new standards, Vlasak said. Teachers can add to “district curriculum that addresses state grade level standards, but never detract from them,” he said.

The AMP test is structured differently than the most recently administered Standards Based Assessment, Vlasak said. It has moved away from the expectation of students to regurgitate information. The questions require more developed critical thinking skills, which is why the new standards and test are considered to be more rigorous, he said.

Ideally, students aren’t spending classroom time being taught to take a test, O’Brien said.

“It is what it is,” O’Brien said. “It is all state regulated. We try to take best advantage of what time we had.”

O’Brien said the AMP is a not a good way to assess an individual student’s achievement and understanding of the new standards.

But that was not necessarily what it was designed to do, Vlasak said. Rather, it is a good measure of comparison to how a student is performing in relation to their peers school-wide, district-wide and statewide, he said.

O’Brien said the AMP is not an accurate indicator of a student’s future academic successes. Other indicators, such as the school district’s JumpStart, “attaining industry certifications, and other assessments” such as the WorkKeys, ACT or SAT, can better assess future achievement.

The school district will receive the two student reports from the testing company before they are mailed to families, school district spokeswoman Pegge Erkeneff said. For questions regarding individual results the school district has a webpage, and parents can contact their school administrators or the school district office.

Hanley said he was pleased with how well school districts implemented the first AMP test. There are 12 specialists to help with coordinating and training, but he hopes to increase the available resources.

He did see the letter from the association, but said it was misguided because the test was never designed to be the sole source to guide classroom instruction, but an additional source.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the AMP, Hanley said. It cannot be compared to the state’s previous assessments, nor other state’s assessments, he said. It is expected to make Alaska’s students better prepared for college and the workplace, he said.

There is a five-week long window at the end of March when the 2016 is scheduled for administration, Hanley said.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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