Release of new state test scores hits unexpected delay

An AMP flyer posted at Haines School. (Emily Files)
An AMP flyer posted at Haines School. (Emily Files)

School districts across the state are waiting on standardized test scores that were scheduled for release in early October. Third through 10th graders took the Alaska Measures of Progress tests for the first time last spring. State education officials say the test is more rigorous than the previous assessment. But finding out how students did on the new exams is taking longer than expected.

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“We’ve had some frustrations with our vendor,” said Alaska Department of Education Commissioner Mike Hanley. “We think that these kinks should’ve been worked out sooner.”

The state has a contract with the Kansas-based Achievement and Assessment Institute, or AAI, to develop and score the new AMP tests. Hanley says when the AAI gave the AMP scores to the state recently, “we found some glitches in the data, the way it transferred to our reports.”

Hanley says the glitches had to do with the way the scores were differentiated and scaled. For example, in reading, the AMP tests measure different skills.

“One is reading for information, one is reading literature,” Hanley explained. “We should be able to see a different score for both of those. And because of the way it was scaled, we couldn’t see the differentiation between the two and yet we know there is one. They’re both reading, but they’re different skills. And when we couldn’t see a difference, they all kind of looked the same, we said that doesn’t sound like what we know about our students.”

“I mean I do take 100 percent responsibility for that,” said Marianne Perie, AAI’s project manager for the AMP contract.

She says there were a few unique things about the Alaska tests that posed challenges which AAI should have better prepared for.

“We weren’t used to the kind of checks that are needed in your state,” Perie said. “For instance, there are a lot of transfers in Alaska within the testing window. There were some kids that switched grade levels within the testing window.”

Perie says Alaska’s switch from paper-and-pencil tests to a mainly online assessment also caused some challenges for the testing vendor. The back and forth between the state and AAI has left superintendents hanging.

“It’s frustrating from a district standpoint to get ready, and then get let down,” said Rich Carlson, interim superintendent for the Haines School District.

Carlson has worked as a superintendent in Alaska for 14 years and says he can’t remember this kind of delay ever happening in the past.

“It’s been very confusing because we’ve been ramping up for the public release of the scores for probably four or five months.”

Superintendents in districts including Haines, Dillingham and Wrangell have warned at school board meetings that students’ scores for the assessments are likely to be lower than those from the previous yearly exams because AMP standards are more rigorous.

“So that’s what’s being held up and that’s what we’d just like to get out there and share with parents and share with communities and schools and get a better understanding around it,” said Hanley.

And there’s another concern. Alaska, like many other states, saw an increase in opt-outs with the new standardized tests. In school districts like Haines and Sitka, testing refusals jumped from almost none to numbers that will likely affect district scores significantly. Hanley says the delays happening now are probably not going to help that situation.

“Yeah, it’s not going to build confidence [in the AMP tests,]” Hanley said. “It’s hard to say how it will impact more people wanting to opt-out.”

And the delay is not building the commissioner’s confidence in this new testing vendor. AAI has a $25 million five-year contract with the State of Alaska. Hanley says if it seems the institute won’t be able to deliver on the contract, the state will have to make a choice.

“You know, you expect some glitches in the first-time roll-out. I didn’t expect this kind of delay though.”

Hanley doesn’t know how much longer the delay will last. AAI’s Perie said Monday afternoon the institute will shared its cleaned-up data with the state that day.

Some districts have publicized initial scores from the AMP tests. Hanley says that information is not inaccurate, but they are the not the final results.