State board OKs expansion of testing in grades 5 to 9

Some critics worry testing has gone too far

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Students in grades five through nine will be required to take achievement tests even though several members of the state Board of Education called the tests useless.

The state Board of Education voted 5-2 in September to add grades five and nine to the schedule for the TerraNova California Achievement Test 6. The vote means Alaska students will take a state-required standardized test every year from third to 10th grade.

Board chairwoman Susan Stitham and Juneau board member Sally Rue voted against expanding what's called the CAT 6 test. Rue said she wanted her vote to make a statement.

"We're in an age of test mania," said Rue, a former Juneau School Board member. "We should really look to assessments that we know are based on sound educational principles as much as we can."

The federal government wants states to conduct annual testing to show their schools are working. Some board members said they voted to expand use of the CAT 6 because they fear the state could lose some of its $30 million in annual federal funds if it refused.

"It's sad, as a student, to sit there and hear discussion about money," said Megan Coffland, an advisory board member and a Sitka High School junior who worried all the testing detracts from students' overall education.

"I can't think of any student who would say: 'Yes, please, test me more. I want to sit in a classroom all day in complete silence and fill in little bubbles,' " she said.

Shirley Holloway, the state education commissioner, said there's another reason to add the test. Starting in August 2002, each school in Alaska will be labeled each year as "distinguished," "successful," "deficient" or "in crisis."

In part the label will hinge on annual academic progress, Holloway said. The test data will help measure that, so it's important to have the same test in the same grade at every school every year, she said.

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