State to seek AMP waiver

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Sunday, June 12, 2016 9:45pm
  • News

Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development will soon ask the U.S. Department of Education to waive administration of the 2015-2016 Alaska Measures of Progress and Alaska Alternative assessments.

Evaluations were cancelled only days into the month-long test window this year after persistent interruptions, and malfunctions.

“We did not get to the place where we had an assurance if students were to resume testing that it would be a successful experience because of the nature of the unresolved anomalies,” said Margaret MacKinnon, Alaska’s director of assessment and accountability. “The school year was ending. It just wasn’t reasonable, we just couldn’t administer the test this year.”

The state has never requested to waive No Child Left Behind Act federal reporting and English language arts, math and sciences testing requirements under these conditions before, MacKinnon said.

At this point, administrators of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are in support of the waiver.

“…It would be extremely difficult to choose a new assessment, put it in place, and train the test administrators by spring 2017,” said Tim Vlasak, school district director of K-12 Schools, Assessment, and Federal Programs.

The school district has provided input and documentation for the state at every possible opportunity, he said.

On the first day of testing, local students and their peers in grades 3-10 throughout Alaska were cut off from the assessment system when a construction vehicle drove over and severed a fiber optic cable shutting down Internet on the University of Kansas campus, base of assessment vendor the Achievement and Assessment Institute.

Prior and unrelated to the accident, schools reported blank screens, no sound, and some questions did not save or were skipped over. AAI staff did take efforts to repair the cut fiber optic cable, but when students logged in on the third day of the testing window more technical errors occurred.

“Because testing was interrupted during its first week, only a small percentage of students completed an assessment,” according to a June 7 press release from the office of Dr. Susan McCauley, interim commissioner for the Alaska Department of Education. “In addition, the state has substantial doubt about whether the students’ answers represent credible data because districts reported that many students experienced interruptions and test administration problems and were often distracted, frustrated, or no longer took the test seriously.”

In a previous Clarion interview McCauley said this year’s issues were a surprise for Alaska and the testing vendor, specifically because they followed a successful first implementation in 2015.

While school was let out in May, the state was still in discussions with the U.S. Department of Education on what documentation would be necessary to warrant a waiver.

“It just definitely a lot of work but I think we have a lot of information to present,” MacKinnon said. “Hopefully we are able to work through this process…”

Roughly $99 million of Alaska’s federal title program revenues are contingent upon state and locally reported school and student achievement data.

In 2015-2016, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District received $10,515,975 in federal grant awards, said Pegge Erkeneff, school district liaison.

MacKinnon said she does not expect to lose that amount if the waiver is not accepted. Any disciplinary action will likely only be a portion if any amount of the total annual federal funds, she said.

Other states that have recently filed for similar allowances have essential received approval, MacKinnon said.

Federal procedure requires states have an open period for the public to submit comments and testimony concerning this year’s test cancellation. Responses are due by 5 p.m., July 7, and can be sent to Alaska Department of Education Public Information Officer Eric Fry at The state will submit the waiver to the U.S. Department of Education following the closure of the comment period.

The state is also currently in the process of seeking out a replacement for the 2016-2017 school year to the AMP tests. In January former Alaska Department of Education Commissioner Mike Hanley made the announcement 2016 would be the final year Alaska would be administering the assessments based on the new, more rigorous academic standards adopted in 2012.

MacKinnon said as of now the state plans to maintain the current set of standards, and simply look for a new test. She said indefinitely this is the final year AMP will serve as the comprehensive assessment for retrieving and reporting student achievement data.


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