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Alaska's New Standardized Tests

Alaska will pay $25 million in the next five years for a new standardized test. The new test is being created by the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas and will be administered to the state’s 77,000 third through 10th graders.

In 2012, the state of Alaska received a waiver, excusing it from the federal No Child Left Behind law.  Director of Assessment, Accountability and Information Management for the Alaska Department of Education Erik McCormick says the state has been looking for a new standardized testing system.

“Our previous tests, which just finished up in the spring of 2014 was our SBA’s and those were based on the old standards known as the Grade Level Expectations. So back in 2012, our state board of education adopted new standards and 2015 will be the first time we are assessing with the new standards.”

The push, McCormick says, for tests to eventually be given on computers entirely instead of paper, is a money saving measure.

“By moving to a computerized test we can get results back quicker and we don’t have to ship everything. The first two years we will have the computerized test but we will also have the paper and pencil test for the schools that aren’t yet equipped. But after that two years we will be moving to a computer adaptive test. What that means is as the tester goes along the items are adjusted based on how they did on the previous question. So there will be blocks of test questions and depending on how they are doing, they’ll be moved into new blocks of testing items.”

The state of Alaska put out a request for an organization to create a new standardized test.  The director for the Center Education Testing and Evaluation Marianne Perie says the Achievement Assessment Institute wanted to expand their standardized test program to Alaska because the population was similar to their own and the size was perfect. 

“There are some parts of all standards that are similar; little kids need to learn to count to 100 and older kids need to deal with fractions and decimals. So let’s find some areas of comparability and then let’s find some places that are unique to your state and that’s what we’re doing for Kansas and Alaska.”

Perie says the new Alaska test will be broken down to a math portion and an English language arts portion, meaning reading, writing and listening.  She says the institute is also developing benchmark tests for the 2016/2017 school year that will help teachers prepare students for the spring tests. 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests the nation’s students in fourth and eighth grade.  Alaska’s fourth graders test in the lowest percentile in reading in the nation, but by eighth grade the reading level is average.  McCormick says the new standardized test is an effort to improve those numbers.