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Alaska's schools are passing federally required tests at a slightly higher rate than before, even though the target for proficiency has increased, state Education Commissioner Roger Sampson says.
Moreover, Alaska Natives are doing better on the English and math tests, given in grades three to 10.
Sampson called the test results "very encouraging," but said Alaska wants the federal government to judge schools on their growth toward proficiency, rather then solely on whether they have met proficiency goals.
The state in a press conference from Anchorage on Friday released results from last school year's tests. They measure what is called adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Of the 495 schools tested, 292, or 59 percent, met the goals.
"I'm delighted to tell you that the group that made the most significant progress were Alaska Native students," Sampson told the media.
For example, two school years ago, 85 schools did not meet the proficiency targets because Alaska Natives didn't pass English tests in sufficient numbers. Last school year, only 42 schools were in that situation.
Schools that didn't meet standards
Dzantik'i Heeni MS for English and math for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
Harborview Elementary for math for students with disabilities.
The Johnson Youth Center, a state juvenile jail, for not having enough students take the tests.
The district's correspondence program for not having enough students take the tests and for its graduation rate.
Juneau-Douglas High School for its participation rate in test-taking overall and participation by Natives, Hispanics, low-income students, and students with limited English proficiency. Also, for English and math by low-income students and students with disabilities. Also, for English by students with limited English proficiency.
Mendenhall River Community School for English and math for students with disabilities.
Schools report test results for their students overall and broken down by ethnicity as well as categories for low-income students, those with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency. Schools also are judged by their participation rates in taking tests, and by attendance or graduation rates.
There are up to 31 ways a school can end up on the list of those that aren't proficient.
State education officials caution the public against thinking of schools as failures if they are on the list of schools that didn't meet the proficiency targets. Half of the Alaska schools that didn't make adequate progress missed goals in only one or two categories of students.
Two school years ago, 34 schools missed proficiency goals in nine or more categories. Last school year, only 12 schools were in the same situation.
In Juneau, Juneau-Douglas High School, Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, Harborview Elementary and Mendenhall River Community School did not make adequate progress.
Floyd Dryden Middle School, which had not made adequate progress for two years, did so for last school year. But under federal law, it is still listed as a school needing improvement until it has made adequate progress for two years in a row.
Forty schools statewide that needed improvement met the goals last school year for the first time.
The growth in proficiency has been substantial, Sampson said, and asked that schools be judged on their growth.
Although federal education officials have talked about flexibility in implementing No Child Left Behind, Sampson said, "We have not seen that flexibility come to action at this point."
A school may not have met the target for adequate progress, yet it may have improved a lot. Meanwhile, other schools that meet the target may not be growing in proficiency, Sampson said.