282 Alaska schools fall short of federal standards

Officials caution parents that problems may lie with only part of a school

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2003

ANCHORAGE - State Education Commissioner Roger Sampson said Wednesday that 282 schools in Alaska - nearly 58 percent - failed to make adequate yearly progress under federal standards set out in the No Child Left Behind Act.

But Sampson urged parents to review why their child's school may be on the list. It might be because just one segment of the school population did not meet a standard required by law, he said.

"There are some very high performing schools that did not make adequate yearly progress," Sampson said. "They are some of our best schools. Even our best schools can improve."

Under the one-size-fits-all education reform legislation signed into law by President George Bush in January 2002, states are required to test students in math and language arts, which includes reading and writing.

Alaska's compliance plan approved by the federal Department of Education in June requires that at least 64 percent of a school's students be proficient in reading and writing and 56 percent in math.

A school must meet those requirements not only school-wide but in each of nine subgroups. The subgroups include six ethnic groups - Alaska Native, white, black, American Indian, Asian and Hispanic - plus students with disabilities, students from low-income families and students with limited English proficiency.

Failure to meet the requirement in any subgroup means the entire school has not made adequate yearly progress.

As the name No Child Left Behind implies, the law aims to leave out no subgroup of American students from the chance to learn.

State educators took great pains to say inclusion on the list did not mean a school was failing.

Sampson said 51 Alaska schools did not make adequate yearly progress because they did not have 95 percent participation in testing of every subgroup.

Sampson said 53 schools did not make adequate yearly progress in just one of the 31 possible categories and another 65 missed in just two categories. But 28 schools did not make adequate progress in nine or more categories.

"We have schools that are not performing well," Sampson said. "We recognize it, and we intend to deal with it."

Some schools were virtually assured of not making the list. About 30 rural schools do not begin instruction in English until the fourth grade but must test students in third grade because tests in their own language have not been developed - and probably will never be.

Just two of the 25 schools in the Lower Kuskowkim School District made adequate yearly progress, as did three schools in the Bering Strait School District. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige visited both districts when Alaska officials last spring attempted to demonstrate the difficulty in meeting provisions of No Child Left Behind Act in rural Alaska.

Sampson said there was no pattern on the list between urban and rural Alaska. Sixty percent of Anchorage's schools did not make adequate yearly progress.

Some districts, including Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, already have posted detailed results for their schools on the Internet. The information should be available soon from all districts, Sampson said. He urged parents to do more than take a superficial glance at the list.

"If we use the list for that purpose, we'll miss an opportunity to help our kids and improve our schools," he said.

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.

The percentages go up again three years later, then continue rising until the requirement is 100 percent in 2013-14.

Schools that do not show adequate yearly progress face an escalating set of penalties.

Schools on the list for the first time must notify parents and prepare a school plan.

Adequate yearly progress already was being monitored for low-income schools. Eight Alaska schools have not made progress for four years. Federal law requires them to implement an improvement plan and replace staff, implement a new curriculum, decrease management authority at the school level, extend the school day or restructure the school's internal organization.

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