Feds: 13 rural Alaska schools are failing

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Department of Education has found that 13 rural Alaska schools are "failing."

The finding announced this week means students at those schools can transfer to other schools within the district, and the district must pay for transportation costs.

State education officials said more Alaska schools could have landed on the list if the state - which supplied the test scores that generated the list - had included its smallest schools or used different test scores to determine whether a school qualified as needing improvement.

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed into law by President Bush in January, students at struggling Title 1 schools can transfer to other public schools within their school districts, with transportation mostly paid for. Title I schools are those where at least half of students qualify for free lunch programs.

Alaska has about 500 public schools, and 285 of them are classified as Title 1. State education officials used those schools' scores from the fourth-grade students' TerraNova California Achievement Test 5.

If 60 percent or more of the kids at a school missed one-half or more of the questions on the test, that school made the list.

Alaska did not include schools with 10 fourth-grade students or fewer because of worries of statistical inaccuracy. Had they included those tiny schools, 54 more would have appeared on the list, said Harry Gamble, spokesman for the state Department of Education and Early Development.

Students at 8,600 of the nation's 91,000 public elementary and secondary schools were judged failing. Every state used different criteria to determine which schools were lagging.

Failing schools don't get extra money to improve. Instead, they are required to use 20 percent of their federal Title 1 funds toward transporting students between schools and creating academic programs.

How this new program will play out with the 13 failing schools is unknown, Gamble said. State education officials are still waiting for regulations from the U.S. Department of Education.

There are overwhelming logistics tied to transporting kids from one-school villages within sprawling, roadless rural districts, Gamble said. The Alaska schools are scattered from Selawik to Akiachak to Kwethluk.

"Is it reasonable to fly a child every day to a school and home again?" Gamble said. "Is that even cost-efficient? Those are the things we're looking at."

The listed schools were in Selawik, New Stuyahok, Akiachak, Savoonga, Koyuk, Lower Kalskag, Newtok, Kipnuk, Hooper Bay, Pilot Station, Point Hope, Stebbins and Kwethluk.

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