Gap remains between Alaska Native test scores and other students

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A gap remains between Native students and the rest of the Alaska school population when it comes to passing standard tests in math, reading and writing, according to results released by the state Department of Education.

Poor showing on tests by students with disabilities, limited English skills and from low-income families also contributed to why nearly 58 percent of Alaska schools failed to show ''adequate yearly progress'' under new federal education law.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed in January 2002 by President George Bush, requires states to test students in math and language arts.

Alaska's version required that at least 64 percent of a school's students be proficient in reading and writing and 56 percent in math.

Schools had to meet those requirements not only school-wide but in each of nine subgroups: Alaska Native, white, black, American Indian, Asian and Hispanic plus low-income, disabled and limited English proficiency students.

Failure to meet the requirement in any subgroup meant the entire school had not made adequate yearly progress.

In past years, schools have masked poor performance in subgroups by reporting overall high achievement rates. The No Child Left Behind law aims to exclude no subgroup of students from the opportunity to learn.

State Education Commissioner Roger Sampson announced Wednesday that 282 of Alaska's 488 schools did not make adequate yearly progress.

The figures showed 117 schools did not make adequate yearly progress because of low test scores among Alaska Native students. No other ethnic group white, black, American Indian, Asian or Hispanic came close to that figure.

Black students as a subgroup did not make adequate yearly progress at 12 schools, Asian students at six, Hispanic students at six and white students at two. No schools were ranked as needing improvement because American Indian students as a subgroup had not made adequate yearly progress.

Sampson said Thursday that high-achieving individual Native students and some schools with large Native populations did well on the tests, which shows others should be able to. He said there's no one answer to raising Native student scores.

''We're going to be looking at individual schools,'' Sampson said. ''I think that's the only way we're going to have success.''

But Alaska Native students make more progress in school for the same reason white students do when the curriculum is relevant and when students learn something that has meaning to them, he said.

''We need to engage them,'' Sampson said.

Also, he said, some communities simply have higher expectations for their young people. Citing Valdez and Skagway, Sampson said children there are expected to attain high grades, work hard and, when they're older, hold down summer jobs.

''The expectations that develop out of these communities is incredibly high,'' he said.

Sarah Scanlan, education director for First Alaskans Institute, an organization with the mission of developing the capacities of Alaska Native people to meet social, economic and educational challenges, echoed Sampson's comments on relevant curricula.

The institute calls it ''place-based learning,'' curricula focused on local history and customs and career-training that students can use in villages, such as health care and teaching.

Of the roughly 8,200 teachers in Alaska last year, just 385 were Alaska Native, Scanlan said, and more could help solve another problem in rural education the high teacher-turnover rate and the difficulties for students associated with a lack of continuity.

Many Alaska schools also made the inadequate yearly progress list based on poor performance by other subgroups:

112 schools because of results from economically disadvantaged children.

113 schools because of results from students with disabilities.

90 schools because of students with limited English skills.

Sampson said he has gotten a sense that federal officials will modify the rules for disabled students and students who speak limited English when judging adequate yearly progress.

Students with disabilities in the past were not required to be tested, much less held up to the same achievement standards as others the same age and grade level, Sampson said. Expecting a student who does not speak English to pass a standard test in that language detracts from the credibility of testing, as well as the goal of No Child Left Behind, he said.

''I think it will be the No. 1 area that is looked at nationally,'' he said.

On the Net:

Federal No Child Left Behind site: www.nochildleftbehind.gov/

State No Child Left Behind site: www.eed.state.ak.us/nclb/



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