Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you Skagway School students are the best around. But now they can say it with authority, as the school has received the highest Alaska Measures of Progress assessment scores in the state.
“By far and away, both in English language arts and math, our students were the highest achieving students in the state,” Superintendent Josh Coughran said.
The statewide tests were given to third through tenth graders in the spring of 2015, but the results were not available until earlier this month.
A student’s scores are divided into four achievement levels, from low to high. Those who score in levels three or four meet the standards, while those who score a level one or two only partially meet them.
According to data provided by the state department of education, of the 43 Skagway students who participated, close to 63 percent met the standards in English language arts and mathematics.
A spreadsheet compiled by school staff shows Skagway School ranking almost 12 percent better in English than the next highest scoring district – Denali Borough. In math, they ranked 18 percent higher than Wrangell.
In Haines, out of the 140 students tested, about 49 percent were proficient in English and 34 were proficient in math. Of the 73,000 students tested statewide, about 35 percent met standards in English, and about 31 percent met standards in math.
Though the school is the best in the state, Coughran said there is still much work to be done.
“I’m encouraged, but I’m not 100 percent satisfied until we’ve reached everyone,” he said.
Coughran said the school did so well because they adopted the state’s newest standards early on, while resistance was felt from other districts.
“We always incorporate those state standards into our daily lesson plans,” he said. “We were well connected between instruction and assessment.”
According to a press release from the state Department of Education, the AMP assessment is much more challenging than the former Standards Based Assessment and comes with more rigorous standards and difficult questions.
The test uses fewer multiple-choice questions and forces students to analyze, perform multi-step tasks, solve problems and apply what they know to new situations.
But Coughran said the test doesn’t allow for growth in the classroom. By the time the scores are released, the student is in a completely new grade.
In an email, elementary teacher Mary Thole voiced her concerns about the test, saying they produce only a general number score for each student.
“We need to advocate for subset scores that provide us with real information about each learner, otherwise this test is only useful for school ranking,” she said. “The AMP tests are supposed to drive instructional decisions and help us individualize instruction, yet we only see placement on a scale.”
Dissatisfaction over the test has been heard throughout the state, as teachers are unable to properly understand students’ needs.
Alaska House Rep. Jim Colver, R-Palmer, plans to call for a repeal of the test, saying he would like to see AMP replaced with the Measures of Academic Progress tests, which Skagway School also uses.
MAP creates a personalized assessment by adapting to each student’s learning level, measuring their individual progress and growth, but is not mandatory for students like AMP is.
Thole spoke in favor of MAP and said teachers will continue to try to utilize the test’s useful data.
Though the test may not give teachers the insight they need, it does show that Skagway School students continue to excel in all areas.
“Another piece of proof our students, their families, our staff and school leadership…our village is such a cohesive cooperative, always working towards excellence,” Thole said.
While adopting the new standards helped students’ performances, Coughran agreed that it was because of the students, teachers, parents, community and generous municipality that the school has been able to reach such heights.
“It’s validation. Certainly our work is not done,” Coughran said. “There is room for improvement. I’m encouraged and happy with how we did this last year.”