The superintendent of the Anchorage School District presented his State of the Schools speech to a group of principals and community members Friday morning. New data shows that the schools are improving but still have a ways to go.
Preliminary standardized test scores show that about 83 percent of Anchorage’s students can read well and 79 percent can write well. Those scores are up from last year. Math scores are down slightly — only 71 percent passed– but that may be due to the introduction of a new curriculum. The school district wants 90 percent of all students to pass all three subjects by 2020, but they’re behind on reaching that target.
School attendance is on the rise for all grades, but four year graduation rates are down slightly.
“Yes, we have a lot work ahead of us,” said Superintendent Ed Graff during his speech at the East High Auditorium. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”
He says one of the key ways to help students is to engage them more with the subjects. “Great things happen for students when you provide them with interesting, hands-on activities. We know this from our own observations and our own experiences.”
Graff said to help encourage that, student engagement will be a major component of teacher evaluations. The district will also continue its focus on social and emotional learning skills — helping students learn how to interact in healthy ways. Graff said students with those skills perform better academically.
One of the pilot programs for the upcoming year will add more pre-K classrooms to the district and introduce literacy coaches.
Graff said similar programs are already working in Anchorage’s schools. “Tyson Elementary School has both a Title I coach and a building literacy coach. They’ve seen student test scores jump 12 to 18 percent in reading, writing, and math. When we provide the resources to our schools and our students, they achieve.”
Graff did not address the district-wide staff cuts during his speech. They cut 105 positions for this school year. Speaking to reporters he acknowledged that it does make student success harder, but he said other resources can fill some of the gaps. “Those resources look like different things. It’s not always about a position. Sometimes it’s about the right materials. Sometimes it’s about the right training. Sometimes it’s about the right community and parent involvement and partnership. So that’s really what we’re focused on.”
The district will also be using federal money to provide more free meals to kids with less paperwork for the school. And they’re adding more cameras, auto-lock doors, and better intercom systems so that students and staff feel safer.
Anchorage schools re-open for most students on August 20.