During its Jan. 17 meeting, Alaska’s State Board of Education voted to lower the threshold for students to achieve “proficiency” status in basic reading and math.
Initially proposed by the Alaska Department of Education, the lowered expectations will now make it appear as if more students are succeeding academically without achieving objectively higher test scores.
Written public comment on the new cut scores was limited, but several people expressed strong disagreement with the plan.
Shame on all of us for thinking that we can do less, expect less, produce less and provide less.
“This is disgusting. How much more are they going to dumb down schoolwork?” wrote Christina Moore. “How are they going to function in the world and workforce if they are getting substandard education? Instead of fixing the problem, you are making it worse.”
Another commentor called the new cut levels a “disservice to our students.”
“If our schools are having issues getting students to the current standard, then that is what needs to be addressed,” wrote Jessica Miller. “You don’t just lower the standard to say they are doing well, when in fact they are not.”
Loa Carrol-Hubbard agreed, stating that lowering test score thresholds is akin to cheating.
“What are you thinking?” she wrote. “You can’t decrease the standards, lower the mark, and then walk away feeling satisfied…Shame on all of us for thinking that we can do less, expect less, produce less and provide less.”
While several other commentors expressed similar sentiments, Susan Steele, who serves as Director of Special Projects for the Yukon School District wanted the standards dropped even further.
Steele blamed “myriad factors” such as resource disparities, socioeconomic variances, cultural and linguistic diversity, teacher retention issues and other challenges as reasons why Alaska students are struggling.
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“I encourage revisiting the cut scores to even lower proficiency bands,” Steele advised, adding that lowing the bar would ensure “realistic and attainable goals for all students and districts.”
In order to show whether students are actually learning, Alaska conducts a statewide assessment each year to measure how those in grades three through nine perform in reading and math. An annual report called AK STARS is then published to provide accountability to the public, and to help guide policy decisions, curriculum development, teacher training and more.
Historically, the vast majority of Alaska students have failed to show basic proficiency in reading or math. In 2022, 71% of students were below proficient overall. With lowered expectations, however, the newly approved plan will likely classify more students as academically “proficient.”
One example of the changes can be seen in the fourth-grade assessments. Under the old system, students needed to achieve a score of at least 1572 to be deemed “proficient” in reading. The updated system lowers that to 1568. Similar changes were approved across most other grade levels.
— Click here to contact Alaska Education Commissioner Deena Bishop.
— Click here to contact Gov. Mike Dunleavy.