Alaska AYP 2011-2012 Numbers: Time For A Change?

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by Natalie Travis

(Anchorage, AK ) The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development announced almost half of Alaska's public schools made adequate yearly progress in 2011-2012. Education experts say the words "made adequate yearly progress" mean public schools met all of their targets for the school year, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Every year students grade 3 though 10 take reading writing and math tests, according to officials, the scores are used partly to help parents and teachers understand how students are doing, but they're also used as an accountability system. However, some say the federal act remains extremely confusing to many.

Of 507 Alaska public schools, 236 or 46.5%--met all of their targets for the 20-11-2012 school year, according to the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. They're held accountable not just for the student body as a whole, but in 9 other subgroups as well, according to officials.

 "Such as low income students and students with disabilities, students who are English language learners and students of different ethnicity," said Eric Fry, Public Information Officer for the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

Some positive results from the 20-11 20-12 school year include:

 71 schools improved on unmet targets.
 8 past struggling schools, no longer face NCLB consequences.
 State graduation rate is up 1.39 percent.

The federal law's goal is 100% of students assessed through grades 3  through 10, be proficient in language arts and math by spring 2014. However, state officials see some problems with NCLB; one, it's very hard to understand.

 "And secondly, its asking ultimately for perfection, that there will be a point where every student is proficient in English and math all the time, that's an admiral goal, but it isn't really a practical goal and it can be demoralizing to people to expect perfection," said Fry. Lastly, there are up to 40 targets each school has to meet depending on size and grade configuration.

"If a school does not meet a single target it's said not to have made adequate progress that year and it creates the impression in the public's mind that the school is somehow a failing school," Fry said.

This could be the last year for this type of accountability system, because Fry says they're applying to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver for many of these provisions---and in place--hope to set up Alaska's own system.  Fry says part of the draft plan might include not setting up consequences for schools failing to make targets, instead asking them to try and reduce their percentage of non-proficient students by half over 6 years, so each school would have its own target based on where it is now. Something else different could be giving credit for progress instead of just proficiency.