Board votes to expand state-required testing

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Students in grades five through nine will be required to take achievement tests even though the chairwoman of the state Board of Education and the student member have called the tests useless.

The state Board of Education voted 5-2 in September to add grades five and nine to the schedule for the TerraNova California Achievement Test 6. The vote means that Alaska students will take a state-required standardized test every year from third to 10th grade.

Board chairwoman Susan Stitham and Juneau board member Sally Rue also voted against expanding the CAT 6. Rue said she wanted her vote to make a statement.

''We're in an age of test mania,'' Rue said. ''We should really look to assessments that we know are based on sound educational principles as much as we can. I realize we don't have unlimited resources, but my point was to bring up these issues, and I don't think anybody on the board would disagree with that.''

The federal government wants states to conduct annual testing to show that their schools are working. Some board members said they voted to expand use of the CAT 6 because they fear the state could lose some of its $30 million in annual federal funds if it refused.

''It's sad, as a student, to sit there and hear discussion about money,'' said Megan Coffland, an advisory board member and a Sitka High School junior who worries that all the testing detracts from students' overall education. Coffland's vote did not count.

''Honestly,'' she said, ''I can't think of any student who would say: Yes, please, test me more. I want to sit in a classroom all day in complete silence and fill in little bubbles.' ''

Shirley Holloway, the state education commissioner, said there's another reason to add the test. Starting in August 2002, each school in Alaska will be labeled each year as ''distinguished,'' ''successful,'' ''deficient'' or ''in crisis.''

In part the label will hinge on annual academic progress, Holloway said. The test data will help measure that, so it's important to have the same test in the same grade at every school every year, she said.

But debate swarmed around which type of test is best to fill the gaps.

The Cat 6 is a norm-referenced test. It's cheap to buy and is all multiple choice, making it inexpensive to grade. Students taking the test are measured against a national sample group that took the test when it was published in 2000. A student who scores in the 60th percentile, for example, did as well as or better than 60 percent of that sample group.

The benchmark tests that students take at grades three, six and eight, and the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam that students must pass to graduate, are criteria-referenced tests. Students pass or fail the tests, which were designed specifically for Alaska, based on state standards. They include multiple choice and short- and long-answer questions.

Statewide, teachers complain about the time that tests take away from normal teaching, said Rich Kronberg, NEA Alaska president. The state board has considered adding days to the end of the school year to compensate.

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