State schools chief cancels testing

JUNEAU — The Alaska education department announced Friday that it is canceling its computer-based statewide student assessments this year, citing technical disruptions and concerns with the validity of the results.

Federal rules call for state education departments to administer standards-based tests for students in grades three through eight and once in high school, but they also say the tests are to be high quality, valid and reliable and of adequate technical quality, interim Commissioner Susan McCauley said.

“I do not believe at this point that this assessment meets those federal requirements,” McCauley said in an interview. There is no way for the state to come up with a different test that it can administer yet this year, she said.

The department, in a release, said testing was disrupted March 29 when a construction worker accidentally severed a fiber optic cable at the University of Kansas, where the state’s testing vendor is located. When testing resumed on March 31, the department said that schools reported connectivity problems and that some student answers had been lost.

This was to have been the last year for the Alaska Measures of Progress test. While the department said test-taking last spring went smoothly, it also noted that other issues had emerged, with educators frustrated with delayed reports, reports needing to be corrected and lack of detail on student performance. It announced in January that it would seek proposals to replace the test for the next school year.

McCauley said progress had been made toward addressing those issues, but confidence among local educators heading into this testing cycle was a bit shaken. “So we knew coming into this assessment that things really needed to go well, and they went in a very different direction,” she said.

In an email, Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff thanked his staff for making the best of a “frustrating situation.”

“While it’s important we have a broad understanding of how our students are achieving relative to the state standards, the challenges we’ve experienced with AMP reinforce the need to address how we move forward with statewide assessments,” he wrote.

McCauley said state education officials will need to report the situation to the U.S. Department of Education. She said she didn’t know conclusively what the response will be. Other states also have had issues with online assessments, she said.

In addition to the Alaska Measures of Progress test, the department said it also canceled other computer-based tests affected by the connection problems.

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