FAIRBANKS — The Alaska State Board of Education recently approved a regulation to ease performance standards for small schools and alternative high schools, after finding the new ratings system doesn’t work well for them.
Last year, the department of education adopted the Alaska School Performance Index, which rates public schools by stars, as part of its waiver from the federal education law No Child Left Behind. Five stars is the highest rating, one star the worst.
But the department found small schools and alternative schools had difficulty meeting the standards, and state board members believed the index was unfairly penalizing those schools, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
The board unanimously approved exceptions to the index for those schools last week.
The new rules mean improvement at the alternative schools will weigh more heavily in their rating, while graduation rates will be a smaller proportion of the score. It also lowers thresholds for graduation and attendance rates, which would make it easier to meet each benchmark.
The regulation also will calculate graduation rates for small schools during a three-year period instead of annually. That would prevent a school’s rating from falling precipitously if a student does not graduate. This exemption applies to schools with graduating classes of fewer than seven students.
Board member Sue Hull, who also serves on the Fairbanks North Star Borough school board, said the changes acknowledge the role of alternative schools.
“It was going to be almost impossible for those schools to show the good work that they’re doing,” Hull said. “These alternative schools are able to make pretty extraordinary gains. We want to recognize that effort.”
Kaltag School principal Nancy Mason wrote in support of the changes for small schools. Mason’s school, in the Yukon-Koyukuk School District, had one senior this year.
“We are working hard as a staff to support our senior so that he can graduate, but with such a small number, if the student does not graduate, it would really skew our graduation indicator,” Mason wrote. “The proposed changes will help provide a realistic picture of a small school’s graduation rate.”
At its meeting, the board also rejected a proposed regulation that would have allowed candidates for superintendent certification to substitute five years of district management experience for the currently required three years of teaching experience.