The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Students struggle to hit 50% proficiency locally, statewide

Yearly standardized testing results for Alaska’s third through ninth grade students show higher overall proficiency rates in math and English among local students than statewide averages, but rates of less than 50% in almost every grade level for those subjects on a local and statewide level.

Performance Evaluation of Alaska’s Schools, or PEAKS, assessments are administered annually to Alaska’s third through ninth grade students. PEAKS results are meant to inform educators, families and communities, among others, about how Alaska schools and school districts are performing, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED. PEAKS assessments were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release accompanying the release of the data, DEED cautioned against comparing the newly reported data to data from previous years, citing low overall participation rates statewide attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Low participation rates due to COVID-19 warrant caution comparing results to prior years,” the department said.

DEED estimates that about 66% of students in grades three through nine, or about 44,400, participated in PEAKS in 2021. That is compared to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, where about 70% of students in grades three through nine participated in PEAKS assessment. Despite overall low participation rate, DEED said the results are still useful in “assessing performance” at the school and student levels.

Overall, KPBSD saw higher participation rates than the State of Alaska. In the KPBSD, 70.7% of all students participated in PEAKS’ English Language Arts assessment and 70.1% participated in the Mathematics assessment. That is compared to 64.6% of students statewide who participated in the English Language Arts assessment and 64% who participated in the math assessment.

Participation rates were higher in 2019, the last time PEAKS assessments were conducted. About 92% of KPBSD students participated in math and ELA assessments in 2019, compared to about 90% of students statewide.

KPBSD’s sixth graders had the highest English Language Arts proficiency rate at 56.5%. Statewide, the highest English Language Arts proficiency rate was similarly reported among sixth grade students and was around 46.9%.

The highest rate of math proficiency in the district went to fourth graders, 40.3% of whom were found to be proficient. Statewide, third graders reported the highest rate of math proficiency at 37.9%.

Across all grade levels in both English Language Arts and math, only two assessments in KPBSD reflected proficiency rates of more than 50%. About 56.5% of KPBSD’s sixth graders are proficient in ELA. About 51.8% of KPBSD seventh graders are proficient in ELA. Statewide, no grade level reported proficiency rates of 50% or higher in math or ELA.

The results, released earlier this month, come as school districts around the country grapple with the best way to address learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the federal government, KPBSD has received three rounds of COVID-19 money, which comes from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, fund. Through the federal CARES Act, KPBSD received about $2.3 million in ESSER funds. Through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, the district received just over $9 million in ESSER II funds. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, the district received about $20.4 million in ESSER III. Twenty percent of those funds — about $4 million — must be set aside for learning loss recovery.

PEAKS results can be found at education.alaska.gov/assessments/peaks/results.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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