FAIRBANKS — Student results from the first taking of the Alaska Measures of Progress have barely been out, but fresh criticisms are adding to the movement to scrap the tests.

The Measures of Progress, or AMP, is the state of Alaska’s new statewide test. Given to kids in third through 10th grade, the assessment is meant to gauge how well students are meeting the state’s English language arts and mathematics standards.

The Measures of Progress was given to students for the first time in spring 2015. Results were released Monday, and the previous effort to get rid of the tests intensified.

In October, a group of 19 superintendents from districts around the state drafted and signed a letter to the State Board of Education expressing several concerns with the Measures of Progress. 

The superintendents who signed the letter represented districts in Sitka, Dillingham, Nome and 16 other districts. Deena Paramo, of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, was the only superintendent from one of the so-called Big Five school districts in the state to sign the letter. 

Superintendent Karen Gaborik, of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, did not sign the letter, though district spokeswoman Sharice Walker did say the district is interested in exploring alternatives to the AMP.

The letter outlines a list of 10 specific concerns, though only a few of them focus on the AMP assessment itself. The 19 superintendents say the tests provide little information to help educators and schools adapt their teaching to help specific students, 

The superintendents also claim some of them are already giving assessments at the district level that are adaptive, aligned to state standards and norm referenced. Norm-referenced tests are designed to measure the results of test takers against a predetermined population for means of comparison. An example would be the score rating scale of the SAT college entrance exam.

To a certain extent, Alaska Education and Early Development Commissioner Mike Hanley agreed the AMP had issues this fall. In a letter to districts on Oct. 22, Hanley expressed disappointment with the way the vendor administering the test provided the data to the state.

“While I believe that our current assessment tool, AMP, is a quality tool, I don’t believe that the assessment vendor is doing a good enough job in providing the data in ways that meets my or your expectations,” Hanley wrote.

The superintendents urged the State Board of Education to do away with the AMP, though they do not recommend any specific tests with which to replace the assessments.

That’s where legislators stepped in. On Oct. 31, Rep. Jim Colver, R-Wasilla, drafted a bill that would require the state to do away with the AMP and replace it with a norm-referenced test. Colver said he drafted the bill with the help of concerned superintendents.

“What they have now, I see little or no value for the kids,” said Colver, whose district reaches north through Delta Junction and ends at the Fairbanks borough’s southeastern boundary. “This test won’t be able to provide any instruction data.”

Colver’s bill, in its current form, does not include a specific substitute, though while discussing the topic Colver used the example of a test like the Measures of Academic Progress.

Les Morse, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, said a norm-referenced test could theoretically work in place of the AMP but that it’s unclear if a test exists that would meet the state and federal requirements. Even if one did, Morse said, there aren’t many states that give norm-referenced tests on a statewide level anymore, so Alaska still wouldn’t be comparing to a national population.

“That isn’t to say they aren’t useful. They are useful. They provide you a sense of how your kids did compared to the kids who took that test when the test was normed,” Morse said. “Many people are comfortable with that  ... they just would have to prove that that test is aligned to our standards.”

The problems

The state adopted new standards in 2012, and the test was commissioned shortly thereafter. The state put out a contract to create and administer the assessment, which was eventually won by the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas.

Before switching to the Achievement and Assessment Institute, the state had previously been a member in one of the two national consortia-created tests that were aligned to the Common Core standards. One of the reasons the state switched testing groups was so it could create a test designed around the Alaska’s standards instead of using a national one-size-fits-all test.

Marianne Perie is the project manager at AAI in charge of creating the AMP for Alaska. She said her company messed up while releasing the data from the first implementation of the test but said the issue stemmed mostly from the institute’s lack of readiness for the uniquely rural nature of Alaska’s schools and the fact the state was moving to an electronic test for the first time.

Perie admitted the AMP hasn’t provided as much diagnostic information that teachers can use for individual students as it was thought the test might.

“I know the districts are frustrated they’re not getting more diagnostic information out of this test, and no matter how we slice it we can’t get more information,” Perie said. “This year, the subcategories we’re reporting are just not showing huge differences. I’m not entirely sure why.”

Despite that, Perie said the tests are doing the large part of what they were designed to do — provide a summative assessment of students’ mastery of the state’s education standards.

“These tests are federally mandated. They’re supposed to be used for accountability. Nobody likes that, myself included,” Perie said. “We would like to spend more time on really good instructional tests, and I think people try to squeeze as much instructional value out of these tests that were built for a different purpose.”

AAI is working with the state to create several optional formative assessments teachers can give throughout the year that Perie says would give teachers more of the diagnostic information they’ve been hoping for and that they can use to help their students.

“A summative assessment will never be something school-like,” Perie said. “I’ve heard very specifically (some people) want to replace AMP with MAP. I wish it were as easy as switching two letters, but my concern with MAP is it’s not very well aligned with (Alaska’s) current standards.”

According to Morse, the state plans to stick with AAI for now, though the state’s education commissioner plans to meet with the vendor’s directors in the next week or so to discuss future plans. Morse said he thinks, with some extra work, AMP will work fine, but the department plans to meet with superintendents and attempt to address their concerns.

“We think the AMP test, along with some additional tools that we’re working with AAI to build ... could get there,” Morse said. “It’s just we’re building a program; they weren’t all there this year, unfortunately. We think over time, they would be.”

Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.