testing

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The state of Alaska is changing the annual standardized test used in public schools and will revamp “the testing experience” starting with the 2021-2022 school year, according to a Thursday announcement.

Getting dumped is the PEAKS assessment, in place since 2017 for grades three through 10. Alaska students scored an average of 32% proficiency in math and 38% proficiency in English in 2019, the last year for which test results are available. 2020 assessments were not done due to Covid-19. 2021 PEAKS results are expected to be released this fall.

PEAKS will be replaced with “an innovative assessment system designed to better reflect learning throughout the school year and target instruction to students’ individual needs,” according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

The state will work with the nonprofit NWEA to develop the new testing system. The NWEA administers MAP Growth assessments, a different test that is given to students throughout the school year to measure growth. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has been conducting both PEAKS and MAP Growth assessments.

The head of the Fairbanks area teachers union welcomed the announcement that the state is adopting a new assessment system and spoke highly of the MAPS Growth tests.

“Teachers are familiar with the assessment, how to read and interpret the results, and how it can be used as a valuable instrument in identifying both strengths and weaknesses in key areas,” Sandi Ryan, president of the Fairbanks Education Association, wrote in an email. “The questions are adaptive, and thus, not a one-size-fits-all assessment tool. Teachers are able to use the results virtually immediately allowing them to modify and personalize lessons based on the assessment results. This is why teachers test — to get input on the students’ road to mastery so that lessons and activities can be modified and crafted based on students’ performance.”

The new assessment will have “culturally relevant resources to influence future instruction, improve student outcomes, support teachers and inform parents,” according to DEED.

Forty-nine of 54 school districts in Alaska use NWEA’s MAP Growth assessments three times throughout the school year, according to DEED.

“Once fully implemented, the new assessment system will reduce the number of standardized tests for most students in Alaska and will provide teachers immediate results from interim tests,” reads the news release from the state education department.

Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said in a prepared statement that testing is an important tool for measuring student progress, and the new assessments will improve on that.

Teachers, administrators, tribes and families will be involved in creating an assessment implementation plan, according to DEED. A new state webpage with more information about the new assessments is under development.

Grant Robinson, public information officer for DEED, said the change in assessments does not mean something is wrong with the PEAKS test.

“The decision to revisit the approach to statewide testing was motivated by a desire to align the statewide, end-of-the-year summative assessment more closely with interim assessments that the vast majority of districts have chosen to administer throughout the year,” Robinson wrote in an emailed answer to questions.

The change in testing does not change what students are expected to know, he said.

“The expectation of the new assessment system remains the same as previous assessments. The purpose is to evaluate where students are on their journey toward proficiency in state standards,” Robinson wrote.

“The key difference in integrating the summative assessment with interim assessments is that teachers and families will have student learning information more readily available to adjust instruction and improve student learning outcomes. The test rigor remains the same, but this change will help both teachers and families understand in what areas students need the most support.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.