JUNEAU, Alaska - Alaska officials are proposing new standards for K-12 education, including an emphasis on speaking and listening skills, as they seek to boost rigor and create more well-rounded students.
Education department spokesman Eric Fry said the proposal would overhaul the existing system. Under the current system, standards stop at the 10th grade, aligning with testing requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
One of the major complaints about the federal law is that it's a one-size-fits-all approach to education, and Alaska is considering seeking waivers from some of the law's provisions. The Obama administration will let states avoid certain requirements under No Child Left Behind, like children showing they're proficient in reading and math by 2014, if the states meet other conditions.
Those conditions include imposing their own standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards fo r teachers and principals.
Education Commissioner Michael Hanley has said the steps the state is taking to revamp standards and create a "next generation accountability system" should line up with what's needed to seek a waiver, if the state decides to go that route.
Fry said the proposed standards were created by Alaskans and are comparable in rigor to standards being adopted nationally.
The department will ask the state Board of Education and Early Development this week to release the proposals for extended public comment. Students would not be assessed on the new standards until spring 2016. The board begins two days of meetings in Anchorage on Thursday.
Barb Angaiak, president of the National Education Association-Alaska, said it's important that the review process is thorough and fair.
"We want to make sure what is proposed and what is put in place does make sense," said Angaiak, whose group, a major teachers' union in the state, has been reviewing the standards.
According to the proposal, the standards "do not tell teachers how to teach, nor do they attempt to override the unique qualities of each student and classroom. They simply establish a strong foundation of knowledge and skills all students need for success after graduation."
"It is up to schools and teachers to decide how to put the standards into practice and address cultural diversities," the proposal stated.
The revision would apply only to classes on the English language and math, which were last updated in 2005. Fry said those are fundamental to achievement in other school subjects and in the workplace, and they are used daily. History and science standards would remain the same.
Classes on the English language would get new standards for communication, including speaking and listening. Students would be required to "gain, evaluate and present increasingly complex information, ideas and evidence through listening and speaking, as well as through media," according to the proposal.
Fry said that for more than a year, the department worked with rural and urban Alaskans, including English and math teachers and those who teach English-language learners; representatives of universities, college and technical programs and industries; and teachers of economically disadvantaged, disabled or minority students.
Alaska's current standards were compared with new nationwide K-12 and college- and career-ready standards. The review process "incorporated the best of Alaska's current standards, added new standards, and revised standards for clarity," Fry said.
The University of Alaska will review the standards to determine if they will lead to more high school graduates who are ready for college without remediation, he said.
The public education system has been marred with problems like high dropout rates and the need for many students who do graduate to take remedial courses once they reach college. Gov. Sean Parnell, who has pushed merit scholarships as a way to help transform the system, said the state needs to raise expectations for students.
In a letter to the education board's chairwoman this month, he said he supported efforts to make Alaska's academic standards more rigorous. He also said it's important that the private sector, military, colleges and technical schools weigh in on the proposed standards.
"If we ensure that their involvement is substantial, these entities will inform us of the qualities and skills they look for in high school graduates," he wrote. "In turn, this will help us shape a transformative and competitive Alaskan education."