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Alaska group criticizes schools rating system

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Posted: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 12:01 am

FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Policy Forum released its own ratings for each school in the Fairbanks North Star Borough last week, decrying the state’s own school rating system.

The Alaska Policy Forum is a libertarian-leaning research group that has endorsed school choice measures such as increased charter school options and school voucher programs. 

The research group criticized the state’s newly implemented rating system, the Alaska School Performance Index, calling the ratings “misleading, overoptimistic, and invalid measures of school performance.”

The forum said the index deceives parents into believing their children’s schools are performing better than is actually the case.

The school performance index rates schools in Alaska between one and five stars. One star is the least a school can receive and five stars signifies the greatest school performance. 

To rate each school, the state looks at several determinants, including attendance; student proficiency scores in reading, writing and math; and a complex formula of student growth. In high schools the state also looks at factors such as graduation rate.

According to the Alaska Policy Forum, the inclusion of indicators such as attendance and growth detract from the one important indicator — the student proficiency scores on the Standards Based Assessment test that all public school students must take.

To fix this problem, the forum released its own ratings of every school in Fairbanks North Star Borough School District based solely on the percent of students who scored at or above proficiency levels on the assessment.

The forum ratings take the percent of students scoring at or above proficient in math and reading and average the two figures to come up with one percent, then, like a test score, give each school an A-F letter grade.

Crawford Elementary School received the highest A-grade, with a 94 percent math and reading average. Its ratings give non-traditional schools Effie Kokrine Charter School and Star of the North Secondary School F ratings and gives Lathrop High School a D rating, the lowest score among the district’s traditional schools. All the FNSB school ratings from the forum can be found on its website at www.alaskapolicyforum.org/2014/01.

The Department of Education and Early Development defended its rating system, which it implemented in August to replace the Adequate Yearly Progress model that had previously been federally mandated. Susan McCauley, director of the Division of Teaching and Learning at DEED, said any rating system based exclusively on proficiency is no different than the outdated Adequate Yearly Progress model the state replaced.

I think it doesn’t paint a full enough picture of school performance for either parents or educators,” McCauley said. “The previous system and, in my opinion, any system based solely on percent-proficient oversimplifies consideration of all of the variables that impact student learning.”

McCauley said the state included attendance and growth figures because those indicators help provide a more complete picture of a school’s performance outside of a simple pass or fail type proficiency-based number.

“The design of the metric intentionally was to value and provide incentives for growth in learning, the incremental growth that over time if achieved will result in a child being proficient,” McCauley said. “It was to value that growth, not just whether a child is proficient.”

And the index does not ignore proficiency, she added. At the elementary level it accounts for 35 percent of a school’s rating, and at the secondary level where there are more indicators to factor it counts for 20 percent.

The Alaska Policy Forum cited one example to prove its point, Airport Heights Elementary School in the Anchorage School District. The school received a rating of three stars despite more than half its students not meeting proficiency in math, as well as 44 percent and 48 percent respectively not meeting proficiency in reading and writing.

McCauley, however, said Airport Heights’ received three stars because it maintains a healthy attendance rate of 93.2 percent and has shown effective growth rate of 91.58, both comparable numbers with a four-star school.

McCauley added that critics who say the star-rating system gives a false sense of positivity might be mistakenly operating under the assumption that a three-star rating comes across as a good score.

“I wouldn’t comment on other people’s perceptions of three stars, but I don’t think we should assume that that is universally perceived as okay,” McCauley said. “A three-star rating still clearly indicates room for improvement.”

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

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