By Sarah Montalbano – Alaska Policy Forum

The Alaska System of Academic Readiness (AK STAR) assessment, administered for the first time in the spring of 2022 to Alaskan K-12 students, promises continuity with mid-year assessments and less testing time — both good things for students. However, one change from the Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS) exams may cloud transparency and fail to adequately communicate student results with parents and the public.

PEAKS exam scores were reported in four achievement levels: far below proficient, below proficient, proficient, and advanced. AK STAR amended the two achievement levels indicating students testing below grade-level expectations to “needs support,” and “approaching proficient,” while retaining “proficient” and “advanced” to describe students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations. These changes were made in the hopes that updated achievement levels “might better incentivize student performance” by emphasizing “growth and progression,” according to materials provided to the State Board of Education in September 2022.

It is difficult to see how changing the way that education insiders describe student achievement will incentivize students to perform better, especially if parents or teachers do not communicate with the student about their results. However, it is possible that parents might feel softened concerns about their child’s performance when their assessment results state the child “needs support” rather than learning their child is “far below proficient.” First, all students need support in some way at some point in their academic careers. Secondly, this description fails to be specific as to how severely a student may be behind grade level and what kind of support might be needed.

Other state assessment scales manage to convey the degree of severity to which students are falling behind grade level in relatively neutral terms. Florida’s FAST assessment has five levels (inadequate, below satisfactory, on-grade-level, proficient, and mastery), with the third level and above indicating proficient scores on all tests. Mississippi describes its five achievement levels as “minimal,” “basic,” “pass,” “proficient,” and “advanced,” and those proficient and advanced are above grade-level expectations. California describes its four achievement levels as “standard not met,” “standard nearly met,” “standard met,” and “standard exceeded.” Describing students as “nearly” at grade level does well in emphasizing the growth that students could undertake to meet grade-level expectations while providing a realistic description of how far below grade-level expectations students truly are.

While it is admirable to declare that a student “needs support,” all students may need support in some way at some point, and this label fails to be specific as to what kind of support is needed. Changing the way education insiders describe student achievement may not motivate students to grow in their abilities, but it may fail to communicate to parents the degree to which their child has fallen behind.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: Alaska’s standardized test labels can mislead parents on students’ performance

Sarah Montalbano
Sarah Montalbano is the Policy Manager for Alaska Policy Forum. where she writes about education, healthcare, state fiscal issues, and more. She is a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and also the Northwest Regional Leader and writer with Young Voices. She graduated from Montana State University with a B.S. in computer science with minors in economics and data science. She was a 2022 Robert L. Bartley Fellow in editorial features at The Wall Street Journal. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, and The American Spectator.


  • Neil A DeWitt says:

    So let’s change the label so kids done feel left behind? Why don’t we just teach to above grade level so, after the test, we get the results we want? This way, just possibly, Alaska won’t be on the bottom of the test scores list. Now, there’s a novel idea. Actually teach kids something usable instead of all the woke, LGBTQ+ crap.

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    Another way to hide things from the parents.
    By the way I forgot (the teacher) to tell you, your kids name is Sara not Sam he’s a she now.
    Take your children out of these school

    • Chuck Anziulewicz says:

      You SHOULD take your kids out of public schools. Homeschool them. Isolate them from the Big Bad World. And if you kid says he want to be a ornithologist or a doctor or a historian, you can say, “NO, son, you’re going to a trade school and learn to be a plumber!”

      • Anon says:

        I totally agree…… no child should be in the public school system . It is child abuse…
        Dr are responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year who wants that on their resume ! And history has never been written as it actually happened.
        So yes , a trade career is a great life’s work .
        You forgot farmers and ranchers … also excellent careers

      • Anon says:

        Excellent idea
        Keep them out of the public school system

      • Tamra Nygaard says:

        Nice bigotry. Do you really believe that educating my son with my Master Degree is somehow less valuable than educating him with a bunch of leftist ideologues who graduated from teacher’s college? And by the way, most plumbers make more money than you do. Who do you call when your septic system backs up? A teacher’s college grad?

      • Mboll says:

        Actually Chuck the truth is actually very differant. The are alot of kids that excel in the homeschooling programs while outperforming alot of their counter parts in public schools. They have careers as doctors, lawyers, nurses, enginers and they have even been found in some cases to be a “more rounded member of society”. But you already knew that.

  • Anon says:

    Keeping them stupid is a easier way to rule over them

  • Now We Are Two says:

    PEAKS exam results have always been impossible to decipher. This is deliberate.
    I’ve had 4 students who were getting A’s in math & English at the university level do just “so-so” on PEAKS, and was curious why, so started to investigate.
    They make the exam very specialized for certain words or phrases that enable teachers to “cue” ignorant students to the right answer (they just follow ths specific curricula, so it’s not deliberate at the teacher level), while making it confusing for advanced students not using that language. That way, you get a “middle of the pack” scoring results for even dumb or uneducated students.
    The SAT is still OK, although they have did the same thing at the upper end. In the old days, getting a perfect SAT score was like 1 in the entire state of AK. Now, it’s not too hard to ace it, especially on math). Again, they wish to “blend” the great/average/poor. Thus, the school systems can have no accountability. Education is a racket, and testing is key to keeping it scam going.

  • Bob Logan says:

    Everyone understands percentile scores. For example, scoring 95th percentile vs 70th means you did better than 95% of the kids vs doing better than 70% of them. The scores required for “meets the standard” or “needs support” are concealed from the public. They don’t let you see exactly how you did against the other students. That’s the point of converting scores to nebulous categories. I couldn’t care less if our kids met the standards for the worst performing state in the country. We want our kids making Shanghai (top world scorer) look stupid. And they do. Because that was our goal. Why would we let low performance people set standards for us?

  • Friend of Humanity says:

    Liberty First Society for Constitutional Training and education.