The federal Education Department has approved the state's plan for deciding whether its schools are making adequate progress in reaching the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.
But several concerns about how the federal law will work in Alaska, including the amount of coursework rural teachers must have in the subjects they teach, remain unresolved.
Accountability plans for Alaska and 16 other states were approved Tuesday in a White House Rose Garden ceremony with President George W. Bush.
"This is the first step needed to ensure that Alaska is meeting the education reform requirement of No Child Left Behind," said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican. "Teachers and administrators now know what is expected of them going into the next school year."
Alaska's plan requires students to be tested yearly in grades 3-10. The percentage of students who must pass those tests will go up over time.
"It's a plan that promises all students that they will meet the standards" by 2013, said state Department of Education and Early Development spokesman Harry Gamble.
For next year, the plan requires at least 64 percent of a school's students to be proficient in reading and writing and 56 percent to be proficient in math.
A school must meet those requirements not only schoolwide, but in each one of nine subgroups, said Nick Stayrook, a consultant who helped write the state's plan.
The subgroups include six ethnic groups, plus students with disabilities, students from low-income families and students with limited English proficiency.
Schools that don't have enough students pass the tests will be deemed not to have made "adequate yearly progress" and will be subject to certain sanctions.
The percentage of students in a school who must pass the tests will rise in 2004-05 to 70 percent in reading and writing and 63 percent in math, Stayrook said.
The percentages go up again three years later, then continue rising until the requirement is 100 percent in 2013-14.
The formula for determining whether a school is making adequate progress is more complicated for very small schools with so few students that one or two students can dramatically skew the results, Stayrook said.
There, the state will use a mathematical formula similar to that used to evaluate confidence in poll results.
The federal law says if a school repeatedly fails to meet the yearly goals, it can be required to allow students to transfer to a school that is doing better.
But the federal government has agreed remote Alaska schools will not have to fly students to another school. Instead, low-performing remote schools can offer tutoring or similar services.
The federal government also will let students in Native language immersion programs be tested in those languages in the third grade if the state can translate the tests into the other language.
But several concerns about how the law will work in Alaska still aren't settled.
The federal government has not decided whether to grant Alaska an exception to the requirement that teachers must have a college major or the equivalent to teach a core subject in middle school and high school.
State officials say that requirement poses a problem for rural schools, where just one or two teachers may be responsible for all subjects.
The federal government also has not decided whether to grant an exception to the requirement that teaching aides have at least two years of college.
In some rural districts that would disqualify aides who have expertise in local languages and customs, but lack the required college coursework.