State to work in villages to improve scores

Test results show some schools still behind, officials plan to increase intervention

Posted: Sunday, August 09, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Department of Education says it will ramp up its efforts to help failing schools, particularly in rural parts of the state.

Test scores released Friday showed some schools, mostly in the Bush, continue to fail their students despite five years of the federal No Child Left Behind law meant to reform education.

Statewide test results show significantly lower scores for Alaska Natives. Only 57 percent of Native children read at grade level compared with 89 percent of Caucasian students. In math, 50 percent of Native children are at grade level, compared with 78 percent of Caucasian kids.

State education officials plan to increase intervention efforts next month. They're hiring a director to ensure rural schools take advantage of state and federal resources. Teaching experts in subjects like reading and math also will visit struggling schools to assist teachers.

The state is taking corrective action in five school districts this year because of poor results: Northwest Arctic, Lower Yukon, Yukon Koyukuk, Yukon Flats and Yupiit.

In extreme cases, the state can shut down schools that continually underperform. But closing the only school in the village isn't an option in most of rural Alaska.

In Tuluksak, about 35 miles from Bethel, elder Andrew Alexie says his village is doing everything it can to make its school better.

His school is considered one of the worst in the state. Only 36 percent of its teens graduate, and only 10 percent of students read and write at grade level.

"We've put a lot of hours into it and it is slowly turning around," he told The Anchorage Daily News.

He said the state's monthly visits to the school are welcome and other intervention efforts are making a difference. But bad test scores can't be fixed overnight or in a couple of years, he said.

The state's education commissioner, Larry LeDoux, said the state can't take a heavy-handed approach to punishing failing schools in rural Alaska because the risk of alienating those communities is too high. He said intervention is sensitive. In the past, Native languages and cultures were sometimes beaten out of children in formal education.

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