New student assessments have been released based on a new rating system for school. The new system replaces the Alaska State Performance Index and schools on the Peninsula range widely.
The new rankings are called the System for School Success Reports and they’re part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Basically, it takes a look at a number of different data points and assigns a score, from one to 100, for each school.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Director of K-12 Schools, Assessment and Federal Programs Tim Vlasak says the actual measurements aren’t that different from previous systems, like the Alaska State Performance Index or the Standards Based Assessment before that. What’s new is how the data are interpreted.
“It wasn’t just about proficiency. It became about growth. That’s taken a step further now with ESSA and not only is it a proficiency in the growth, but we’re looking at how... English Language learners progress. How third grade reading in particular is doing.”
Taking benchmark measurements as students progress is important in identifying not only where individual students may need more attention, but for the school as well.
“It helps a district determine whether their curriculum, what guides all the instruction, is addressing the standards in the timeframe the students will be assessed on it.”
There have been a number of changes in how students and schools are evaluated, and on what basis over the past several years, dating back to the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act. One thing the newest system offers is simplicity, in that single number that shows how well a school is helping students achieve progress. But Vlasak says now matter what the ranking system, there will always be information left out.
“It is a limited description of what a school, any school, accomplishes. But that said, the state had to come up with a system within the federal guidelines that was consistent. And there are parts of it that I don’t like and parts of it that are much improved from the old SBA system or even the star rating system.”
On the Peninsula, scores range from a high of 93.48 at Aurora Borealis in Kenai to a low of 18.9 in Nanwalek. Vlasak says that wide discrepancy is based on a number of factors. The culture of the community comes into play, too. For instance, absenteeism is a new metric. And the further out into the Bush you go, the more reasons there can be for missing school. School size is another one.
“Most of the schools on the Kenai will have an ‘N/A’ somewhere on their chart. And that means that that group or that indicator was just too small to be used. So that redistributes the scoring mechanism.”
For individual students, there’s also a lot that can be left out of the measurements.
“We get questions all the time, ‘Well, my student’s getting an A in math. How come his PEAK (Performance Evaluation of Alaska’s Schools) math (score) is so low?’ Well, first of all, it’s an end of the year test and the grade a child gets in the class is a cumulative based on all of these assignments he did all along the year. So he might have done A work every week and was rated on it every week. But did he remember it all at that PEAKs test at the end of the year? Maybe not.”
Adding to the difficulty is the continuous change in assessments. The state has changed vendors for its standardized testing three times in less than a decade, on top of federal changes.
For parents, Vlasak says it’s important to look deeper than just the single number that the system churns out to rank a school.
“That is not the only thing to look at when you’re deciding what school you want to send your children to. There are so many other things that go into how a school functions and the climate of the school and pupil-teacher ratios and so many other aspects. There will never be a single system that meets the needs of all the uniqueness of the schools in the state of Alaska.”