FAIRBANKS — The number of parents in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District opting their students out of standardized testing increased significantly this year as the state debuted new online assessments.
This spring, an estimated 73,000 students in Alaska were scheduled to take the Alaska Measures of Progress tests in English language arts and mathematics for the first time. The tests replaced the Performance Based Assessment, which the state has had in place for several years.
Along with the implementation of the new online assessments this year, the number of parents opting their children out of the tests in the Fairbanks North Star Borough leapt dramatically. According to the district’s executive director of technology Janet Cobb, 128 students in the district were opted out of the tests, a ten-fold increase from years past.
With the previous, paper-based assessments, the district would typically receive only a handful of opt-out requests, Cobb said. She estimated the district had not seen more than about a dozen opt-out requests in a single year before 2015.
The measures of progress are the first statewide tests in Alaska to be offered entirely online. The move mirrors a shift among many states from paper to online tests.
At the same time, movement has grown both nationally and in Alaska against the frequency of standardized testing and the use of so-called “high-stakes” testing that can have an impact on student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance ratings.
Nationally, the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, has encouraged parents to opt their children out of the tests.
“The social media parent movement, you could see it was kind of building all over,” Cobb said. “Everyone was curious what the impact was going to be, but it didn’t seem to affect our population very much.”
The 128 students who opted out of the tests equate to about 1.6 percent of the 8,179 students in the borough who were expected to take the tests.
Every student in third through 10th grade is expected to take the standardized tests.
The main testing window in Fairbanks closed April 10, but the statewide testing window does not close until Friday. As of Tuesday afternoon, 94.9 percent of the approximately 73,000 students in the testing range had completed the assessments. Another 2 percent had finished at least one of the segments, and 3.1 percent had not begun.
In addition to those students, another 5 percent or so of the state’s third- through 10th-grade students were expected to take paper versions of the measures of progress either because of a personal accommodation or because of connectivity issues.
There is no unified process in the state for students to opt out of the tests. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development does not provide any method to do so, instead leaving the decision up to individual school districts.
For a student in Fairbanks to opt out of the assessments, their parent must fill out a form that outlines the implications. Those implications revolve mostly around the school’s Alaska School Performance Index ranking and the potential loss of funding to the school.
For the opt-out numbers to have a serious impact on the district, they would have to equal more than 5 percent of a school’s total testable population.
According to the department, schools could theoretically lose some federal funding that passes through the department if their testing participation falls below 95 percent. Brian Laurent, the department’s data management supervisor, and Elizabeth Davis, its assessment administrator, said the exact impact is unclear at this point, since there is no precedent to go on.
According to Cobb, none of the schools in the Fairbanks School District had participation fall below 95 percent.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.