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New education standards increase rigor

Posted: February 8, 2012 - 11:39am

The Alaska Department of Education & Early Development has put forth new standards for math and English language arts that are expected to be implemented starting in 2016.

The department is holding a series of webinars on the changes. The first webinar was held Monday afternoon. It gave an overview of why and how the education standards could change. The proposal is up for public comment until May 12. The department will have a webinar on Wednesday for proposed changes in English language arts, and another on Thursday specifically for mathematics. To find out more about the sessions or to sign up, see www.eed.state.ak.us/calendar/home.cfm.

Monday’s session was led by EED Assessment Administrator Janet Valentour.

What the proposed standards will do is completely replace the current Grade Level Expectations (GLEs), she said.

“The last time the state reviewed or revised the standards was in 2004,” Valentour said. “... It did not raise the standards, but further refined them.”

Valentour said the department and education stakeholders (educators, universities, business representatives, etc., in Alaska) reviewed Alaska’s standards, comparing them to the Common Core Standards (see www.corestandards.org for more on those standards).

Valentour said it was clear it’s time for Alaska to update its standards for several reasons. Those include issues like Alaska’s standards only encompassing kindergarten through 10th grade; the rigor of what’s expected is falling behind the national norm as other states are ramping up; and the current standards are 6 years old, too broad and are a “blueprint for assessment.”

She said the reason Alaska needs to revise education expectations is because it can’t afford to leave the standards as-is when other states are implementing much stronger programs, and because the entire country is undergoing a “dramatic shift” in better preparing students.

Another realization for the need to change came from the National Assessment of Academic Progress, a test Alaska students typically take in fourth and eighth grades in reading and math. The result? In 2011, 46 states or jurisdictions scored above Alaska’s fourth-grade students in reading, one was below (District of Columbia), four were on par. For eighth-grade students in reading, the average score for Alaska was lower than 33 states or jurisdictions, above eight, on par with 10. In mathematics, the average Alaska score for fourth-graders ranked lower than 33 states or jurisdictions, above six, on par with 12. For eighth grade, the average was lower than 22 states, higher than 16, on par with 13.

The new proposal takes what they learned from the GLEs and what worked, but also puts an emphasis on fixing issues commonly reported out of Alaska graduates — lack of work readiness, college readiness, education related to real world applications and rigorous content. the proposal also called for a more specific outline of expectations for teachers.

According to the department, “many of Alaska’s high school graduates who enter bachelor’s degree programs at the University of Alaska need remedial courses in English and/or mathematics. Those students are more likely to drop out of college. Employers also say high school graduates are not fully prepared for the workplace.”

The Juneau School District has found that out as well, as was presented last year when the district moved to raise its graduation requirements.

“The proposed standards do not tell teachers how to teach, nor do they attempt to override the unique qualities of each student and classroom,” Valentour said. “They simply establish a strong foundation of knowledge and skills all students need for success after graduation. It is up to schools and teachers to decide how to put the standards into practice and incorporate other state standards, including the Cultural Standards.”

Valentour said the goal with the new regulations is to not only create a higher standard, but still allow for flexibility for Alaska’s uniqueness.

All Alaska students will be tested via the new assessments and standards beginning in 2016. Valentour said this gives districts three years to switch over.

A participant in the webinar from Sitka expressed concern over the aggressive timeline of the new standards.

“Alaska is fortunate to have three years,” she said. “Many states have only had one year. ... I’m suggesting that three years to move across the timeline is giving us the opportunity to be very thoughtful. It is an aggressive timeline, I agree.”

Valentour said there will be a transition plan for the school districts, however that can’t be approved until the new regulations are finalized. She said tools also will be provided to districts and the Curriculum and Alignment Institute can assist districts with aligning their curriculums. Valentour said all of that depends upon how a district chooses to transition.

For more information on the standards, or how to submit public comment to the Alaska Board of Education, see www.eed.state.ak.us/tls/assessment/2012AKStandards.html.

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