Wrangell students score higher than state average on assessment tests

Statewide assessment test scores have been released by the Alaska Department of Education, and the results are not good. In English language arts, 70% of students tested were not proficient. In math, 77% were not proficient. In science, 62% were not proficient.

Wrangell’s students fared better than the statewide average, with 62.68% not proficient in English language arts, 65.49% not proficient in math and 48.08% not proficient in science.

That’s not necessarily bad news, say Wrangell’s educators.

The tests given last spring were the Alaska System of Academic Readiness (AK STAR) and the Alaska Science Assessment. The company that administers the tests, NWEA, also administers the fall Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, which Wrangell has participated in for many years, according to Schools Superintendent Bill Burr.

Testing cycles fall into two categories, Burr said, formative (AK STAR) and summative (MAP).

“To put it into a perception of a classroom, a pop quiz is more of a formative, a final exam is a summative,” he said. The formative is an educator’s way of evaluating where a student’s understanding is currently, whereas “a summative is, ‘I’ve covered all the material … did you pick up all that information?’”

This is the first year that the AK STAR test was given, replacing the Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS) test. It’s another assessment test in a long line of many, Burr said, that presents its own set of problems. PEAKS replaced AMP, which replaced SBA, a high school qualifying exam, he said.

“It’s really a first look for some of these students on this test,” Burr said. “We’ve had disruptions for COVID for three years. … Wrangell also had the significant loss of students two years ago. There are a lot of factors, but we have room to grow. We’re not saying that the test doesn’t have value. Yes, there are factors that may have adjusted the scores a little bit, but it’s still something we’re looking at.”

English language arts and math tests were given to 143 students in grades third through ninth, while the science test was given to 54 students in fifth, eighth and tenth grades.

Burr said educators should never be surprised, good or bad, by test results. Yet, they should use the results to move forward.

“We can’t change what happened in April of last year, but we can (change) what happens tomorrow,” he said. “It’s really that we want to recognize that the test scores on assessments when we get those that don’t surprise or define us.”

Both Burr and Evergreen Elementary principal Ann Hilburn liken the results to a snapshot in a student’s life.

“We’re looking at one day in the life of a student and we’re putting a lot of emphasis and a lot of stress on one test score. It’s one piece of data, not the whole picture,” Hilburn said. “Too many times, staff is rated and students are placed based off one day.”

Though Wrangell’s scores weren’t optimal, Hilburn said the district outscored many others in Southeast. But, she added, that’s no reason to stop moving forward. “We’ve got some work to do. What’s the work that we need to get busy with to make sure our students are more than 50%?”

An opening in-service for teachers for the 2022-2023 school year was held before classes started. Burr gave a presentation on what he called “perception versus reality.” He said educators have a perception of how they are doing but need to review the factors that can prove the reality of that perception.

“If we think we are doing really well or really poorly, we have to look at the other side and say it’s not just one test,” Burr said. “You can’t look at one state test and say, ‘Well we did badly,’ or the reverse and say, ‘We don’t really have to teach anymore. We’re awesome.’ Because that’s not enough.”

Schools that are underperforming will receive additional state funding to help students improve, however those schools are in the bottom 5%, Burr said. Wrangell is nowhere near the bottom 5%. However, test scores are important for other funding sources, he said.

Heidi Teshner, the acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education, said low test scores can’t be blamed on disruptions in school over the past few years.

“The COVID-19 pandemic certainly disrupted the typical learning experience for students in Alaska and these results are unacceptable,” Teshner said in a statement. “However, the truth is that Alaska’s results were unacceptable before the pandemic. The good news is that these results are not a surprise, and we are already underway implementing a strategic plan guided by Alaska’s Education Challenge that will address the areas of improvement that these results highlight.”

Alaska’s tests scores trail national averages.

Hilburn believes the emphasis should be placed on the overall year, not just one test.

“I don’t believe in teaching to the test,” she said. “I have never believed that. Although, I have worked in schools where that’s what the administration pushed. I believe if a teacher teaches the state standards and they do their job well, then our students will perform well, typically. That’s not to say we can’t go in and reinforce those areas that we know are going to count a little more.”


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