Angoon's school reaches 'Safe Harbor'

Improvements not good enough for superintendent

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007

For years the Angoon School has been plagued by failing test scores, but last year more students passed the state test than the year before.

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Still, test scores remain far below federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Angoon students made enough progress in reading, writing and math to reach what educators call "Safe Harbor" status.

Safe Harbor is granted when the number of students not meeting proficient testing levels goes down by 10 percent from one year to the next, said Eric Fry, spokesman for the state Department of Education and Early Development.

"It's an achievement," Fry said.

Vance Cortez-Rucker, Chatham School District superintendent, said he was reluctant to call the improvements a success.

"It's not sufficient," he said.

Cortez-Rucker explained that the established goal of testing is to reach a minimal standard of 71 percent.

"Where else is a C average good enough?" he said.

A large percentage of Angoon's students are still not proficient in English. In the school as a whole, 42 percent of the students in grades three through 10 tested proficient in reading and writing.

Most Native students arrive at school two years behind state standards, Cortez-Rucker said.

The school is 95 percent Alaska Native, according to state records.

Even with the Safe Harbor status in three categories, the school failed to meet federal standards.

Other schools in the district, in Gustavus, Klukwan and Tenakee Springs, already meet the requirements, Cortez-Rucker said.

According to Cortez-Rucker, the Safe Harbor status resulted from a new "growth model" implemented by the state last April. He said the state picked a series of students and projected where they will score in the next three to four years.

"It increased the overall scores," Cortez-Rucker said.

Fry disagreed and said that the new growth model is a separate issue entirely, and that Angoon reached Safe Harbor by reducing the numbers of students failing the annual test.

To improve student performance, the school district introduced tutoring, summer school and a preliminary test given in September. Teachers get an idea where individual students stand in their ability with subject material they will face during spring testing.

"They know each student's weakness. Those are the areas they attack," he said.

Though the highest scores came in reading and writing, Cortez-Rucker said it was not fair to attribute student betterment to one teacher. All teachers worked with language arts.

"Science, history and math teachers all worked with it," he said. "It's important for everyone to work on reading writing and math."

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or

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