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Alaska Rating System Changes Help Alternative, Smaller Schools

By Corey Allen-Young, Education Reporter, cyoung@ktuu.com
Published On: Jun 23 2014 08:21:20 PM AKDT

Alaska's Board of Education is adjusting its performance rating system, in a move meant to level the field for assessing schools across the state.

ANCHORAGE -

Alaska's Board of Education is adjusting its performance rating system, in a move meant to level the field for assessing schools across the state.

Based off of the first year of ratings under the Alaska School Performance Index, 13 percent of traditional high schools received a low one-star ranking -- versus 60 percent of alternative schools which received one star.

Due to that discrepancy, educators say ASPI's criteria had to change in order to accurately see how well all students are doing.

With a majority of students in Alaska's more than two dozen alternative programs academically behind traditional students, alternative educators say ASPI unfairly compared their students' performance with kids who didn't have to deal with the same problems.

"Schools were being held accountable as if they had always had those students," said Susan McCauley, the state Department of Education and Early Development's director of teaching and learning support. "As if they had an opportunity, for example, to keep those kids on track in credits from ninth grade on so they would graduate on time -- and that isn't the case."

As part of the changes to ASPI, attendance and graduation scores will be lowered for alternative and smaller schools that deal with troubled kids. The idea is to accurately rate how much improvement is being made.

At the Southeast Island and Hydaburg City school districts their shared superintendent, Lauren Burch, says rural school districts focus on where students and resources are scarce. She calls small districts a giant alternative school, where teachers have to be constantly flexible.

"We review our data and try to make adjustments in our education," Burch said. "I have nine schools and a lot of them have 10 kids each; I don't have really a hot shot science teacher at each."

Administrators say the ASPI modifications aren't letting schools off the hook, because the overall goal is to make the system fair and accountable so all students can get the right tools to succeed.

"If we are not getting done at one school, I will look for new teachers, or I'll move them to where they are better suited," Burch said.

The state says despite the adjustments for alternative and small rural schools, low star rankings will still require improvement plans being made.