Alaska students are showing up average in nationwide testing

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Alaska students are testing average in a test being administered nationwide as part of federal education reform.

Fourth- and eighth-graders were tested for their math and reading skills. Eighth-graders in Alaska averaged better at math than their typical classmates in the Lower 48. They scored slightly below average on reading, though.

Fourth-graders were near the center of the spectrum of scores posted by their counterparts in the other 49 states.

In Alaska, about 10,000 fourth- and eighth-grade students in roughly 260 schools took the tests in February. The students were drawn from all parts of the state, rural and urban.

The middling performance didn't surprise Alaska education officials. Students here scored similarly in 1996, the first and last previous time they took the National Assessment of Educational Progress, said Harry Gamble, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education.

About 10,000 students from Anchorage and around the state took the exam. Every state has to take the NAEP as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The results measure states against a national norm and one another. Thursday's release of the scores marked the first chance for teachers and parents to stack up their students' reading and math skills against those of other states' kids.

Until now, only about 40 states volunteered on any given year to take the NAEP, often referred to as "the nation's report card."

Gamble said the state dropped it after 1996 because the exam cost money and didn't necessarily add to a system of tests already in place.

Then came the new federal law, demanding that every public school student be proficient in reading, writing and math by the 2013-14 school year. It requires states to create tests that can measure performance against specific educational standards.

With the law granting each state flexibility, the result has turned out to be varied educational standards and exams in each of the 50 states.

So the NAEP effectively creates a uniform exam that ties everyone together. One reason is so federal officials can compare NAEP scores to results from a state's own selected tests and gauge how tough or lax that state's system is, said Jeanne Foy, NAEP coordinator for Alaska.

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