The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

High scores in science and English for Valdez students in PEAK testing

Assessment is statewide and educators wonder at low math scores in Alaska


September 13, 2017

Source: Alaska Dept. of Education and Early Development

An explanation of levels of proficiency as interpreted by the State of Alaska.

Valdez students did better on Alaska's new standardized tests than the statewide average in language arts and science - but math scores were low and no one is yet sure why or what it means.

The results of the Alaska's new standardized tests - commonly called the PEAK assessment - show more than half of the state's elementary and high school students are not proficient in math, science and English.

Figures released to the media indicate 68.2 percent of students statewide were rated "below proficient" or "far below proficient" in math, 61.6 percent of students were in those two categories in English, and 53.5 percent were in those two categories in science.

As a district, students in Valdez rated 50.27 percent proficient or above in English, but only 36.90 percent were proficient in math.

"It's the baseline year," the district's test coordinator told the board of education Monday night. "It's typically the year students do the worst in."

The test, which was administered to students last spring, is meant to provide a baseline for improvement in the coming school years.

"The public should know that the whole state struggled with the math exam," Dr. Kathy Todd, a long-time school board member, said during the regular meeting Monday night. "We used to be ahead of the rest of the state with math. This is a new assessment and everything changed."

Percentages in Valdez varied widely between grades.

The assessment says Valdez tenth graders are only 12.77 proficient or above in math, while 53.85 percent of third graders are well above the statewide average.

The district's test coordinator said any number of factors may have influenced the test results.

"Maybe we teach enough geometry but not enough algebra," she told the board. " Is peek asking different questions?"

Board members asked that school administration also try to take a look at whether or not students had been given proper instruction on using the interface for the computer-based tests, if some districts did better by using a paper test and a number of other factors that may have skewed the results.

Source: Alaska Dept. of Education and Early Development

A snapshot of Valdez student performance on last spring's mandatory PEAK testing.

District superintendent Jim Nygaard said the district primarily relies on MAP testing - measured annual progress - to track each student through the year and to help guide educators to identify strengths and weaknesses in each individual student. Those tests are given three times a year.

Individual assessments for each student were mailed to parents last Friday according to the school district.

"I just hope we as a district are digging in," board president Joe Prax said. "It can be looked in a lot of ways."

"PEAKS is Alaska's new statewide summative assessment, and was first administered to students in grades three to ten in spring 2017," the Dept. of Education and Early Development said last week in a press release. "PEAKS is not a pass/fail assessment. Students score on a scale that is divided into four levels of achievement: advanced, proficient, below proficient, and far below proficient."


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