ANCHORAGE -- The first time Elena Pavilla took the three tests required to be a certified teacher in Alaska, she wasn't worried.
''Then I saw my results,'' said Pavilla, 33, who failed all three Praxis I exams, tests required to teach in Alaska since December 1998.
It took Pavilla two tries to pass the writing exam, three to pass math. Two years later, Pavilla has finished her college courses while working as a teacher's assistant in Bethel. But she failed the reading exam six times -- once by only two points.
Pavilla, a Yup'ik, is among 31 Alaska Natives halfway through a two-week course that's combining classroom lessons, individual tutoring and professional development seminars. It culminates Thursday with everyone taking one or more of the Praxis I exams.
Pavilla, who dreams of teaching fifth grade, hopes this next week will ease her anxiety and leave her with test-taking strategies to nail the reading test once and for all.
''I feel much better being here with a group of people who are giving us strategies on how to study,'' she said.
The first-time event is sponsored by the Tree program, a nonprofit branch of Cook Inlet Tribal Council Inc. that addresses education challenges facing Alaska Native students and teachers.
One challenge is the difficulty people who speak English as a second language often encounter with standardized testing, said Kameron Holloway, Tree program manager.
''The fact is, people are really struggling with this exam,'' Holloway said. ''There are some things on that test that make it very challenging, coming from a village of 200, to be able to pass.''
In light of a statewide teaching shortage, Native teachers are particularly underrepresented, most notably in rural areas, Holloway said.
There were 30,638 Native students in Alaska public schools in the 2000-01 school year, about 20 percent of the total student population, compared with the 407 nonwhite teachers who composed 4 percent of the teaching population, according to the state Department of Education and Early Development.
''People who are born and raised there and know the culture and speak the language aren't teaching the children,'' Holloway said. ''So our goal is to bridge that gap and to provide culturally relevant instruction for them to be able to pass this exam. We want them to go on to become teachers and teach in Alaska and be successful.''
The 31 seminar participants are all at least halfway through completing their teaching certification. Ranging in age from 25 to 55, they arrived at Alaska Pacific University a week ago from remote towns and villages such as New Stuyahok, Stebbins and Kiana.
For all participants, transportation, course materials, lodging, meals and the cost of the test are paid by a U.S. Department of Education grant.
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