Alaska may already meet new federal student testing requirements

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska may already comply with the nationwide student testing requirements that Congress has approved and President Bush is expected to sign.

Ed McLain, deputy commissioner of education in Juneau, told the Washington, D.C. bureau of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he had not seen the details of the bill passed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate but thought Alaska's testing program would meet the new rules.

''In general we think that this is in a direction that is very similar to the direction the state has taken,'' McLain said.

Under the bill passed Tuesday, the federal government will require student testing in grades three through eight.

The state of Alaska requires standards-based benchmark testing in grades three, six and eight, as well as the state high school exit exam, starting in the 10th grade. The state also requires that students in grades four, five, seven and nine take norm-referenced tests. This year those students will take the TerraNova California Achievement Test.

Standards-based tests measure students' knowledge and abilities. Norm-referenced tests compare a student's performance to others in a peer group.

Under the federal bill, failing schools would get more money, at least initially. Students who attend such schools could use federal money for tutoring or for rides to better schools.

The Fairbanks district currently has open enrollment, according to Superintendent Jim Holt. That means students can attend schools outside their attendance area as long as their parents provide transportation.

Holt said open enrollment is finite now, as it would be if the federal bill is signed into law.

''If a school is full, it's full,'' he said.

McLain said he had not seen the final definition of failing and so could not speculate about how many schools in Alaska might qualify.

The state also has a plan to deal with such schools, though McLain noted that Alaska does not refer to them as ''failing.'' Lower-performing schools will be classified as either ''deficient'' or ''in crisis,'' McLain said.

That school designation system is to be implemented in August 2002.

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