- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Education officials said the state’s school rating system, now in its third year, is an improvement compared to the former system.

State education department officials briefed the House and Senate education committees this week on the Alaska School Performance Index. That’s the new index used to rank schools.

The rankings incorporate student proficiency, growth on school-specific performance objectives and attendance for schools that teach kindergarten through eighth grade. High school rankings also include graduation rates and college and career readiness.

Alaska implemented the new system under a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That act required different pass-fail rankings.

The new system has been well-received by school districts, state education commissioner Mike Hanley said. “I see engagement and improvement that I didn’t see before and I didn’t experience before,” he said during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing.

Susan McCauley, director of the division of teaching and learning support, said that for the 2013-2014 school year, Alaska had 75 five-star, 198 four-star, 149 three-star, 52 two-star and 27 one-star schools. That was an increase in five-, four- and two-star schools compared to the year prior, and a decrease in one- and three-star schools.

Previously, Alaska schools were considered meeting or not meeting adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind. Under that system, most Alaska schools did not make adequate yearly progress, McCauley said. That standard focused solely on proficiency, and it did not recognize improvements in performance if a certain proficiency threshold wasn’t met, she said. The designation also was dependent on several subgroups- if one didn’t meet proficiency standards, the whole school could fail.

Alaska implemented the new system for the 2012-2013 school year, and now Hanley said schools seem to have more buy-in. Schools ranked with one or two stars are required to make improvement plans, but even higher-performing schools seem more interested in improving their rank, he said.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, asked during an education committee meeting Friday whether the changes meant that schools where students weren’t proficient could still get a good grade. Keller also asked if the new system downplayed proficiency.

Hanley said that the new metric is more tailored to each school, but that the underlying goal is still to help students become proficient.

Senate Education Committee member Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said during a news conference Wednesday that she thought the star system was preferable to other systems and so far was working well. “It allows the school district, the school administration and the department of education to know where to focus our efforts,” Gardner said.

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