Legislature puts off school labels until 2004

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State education officials have been given a two-year delay in establishing a labeling system meant to grade Alaska public schools.

The Legislature approved a bill earlier this month that would push back the school accountability plan until September 2004. It was first signed into law in June 1998.

State education officials have been urging a delay since a committee charged with developing the labels said there wouldn't be enough test data to fairly grade schools by August, when it was due to begin.

The Legislature approved a bill to delay the grading system on May 11 with only two lawmakers voting against it.

Alaska plans to base one-third of a school's label on a school year's test scores and two-thirds of it on year-to-year test improvement. Dropout and graduation rates would also be factors.

Schools will be tagged ''distinguished,'' ''successful,'' ''deficient'' or ''in-crisis.''

The education commissioner and district must develop two-year improvement plans for ''in-crisis'' schools.

Deciding how to label schools has been a chore since the Senate passed a bill four years ago.

Had the current program started this August, the labels would have reflected only a single school year's test scores since Alaska did not require standardized tests at every grade, said Mark Leal, state educational assessment coordinator.

Sens. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, and Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, voted against delaying the grading system.

Taylor argued that the public deserves to know more about a schools' performance and the state had ample time to implement the plan.

''All we've done through this process is put off the deadline for letting the people of Alaska know the current status of their educational system,'' Taylor said.

But the federal Leave No Child Behind Act -- requiring each state to help low-performing students -- may make the state's program moot.

No one is sure whether the state's plan would comply with federal guidelines still being developed.

''Everybody is just kind of waiting right now to see how much flexibility there will be,'' Leal said.

The federal act requires education officials in each state to focus on the 20 percent of students with the lowest test scores. The student on the high end of that 20 percent would set the bar and the goal would be to have every student pass the test after 12 years.

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to decide that issue in June. The ruling may mean Alaska has to dump its current labeling plan, Leal said.

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