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Testing in Alaska: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2007-2008 Alaska used the Standards-Based Assessment (SBA) to test students in grades 3 through 10 in reading, writing and math, and in grades 4, 8 and 10 in science. The High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (HSGQE) was used to test students in grade 10 in reading, writing and math. Students must pass the HSGQE in order to graduate. The SBA and the HSGQE are standards-based tests, which means they measure specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Alaska.

Alaska also used the Terra Nova California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6) to assess students in grades 5 and 7 in reading, writing and math. The Terra Nova CAT/6 is a norm-referenced test, which means it measures how well students in Alaska scored in comparison to their peers across the country.

How are the tests scored?

SBA and HSGQE results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students taking the SBA receive one of four performance levels: advanced, proficient, below proficient or far below proficient. Students who take the HSGQE are scored as either proficient or not proficient. For both tests, the goal is for all students to perform at or above the proficient level.

The Terra Nova CAT/6 measures performance through a percentile based on the scores of all students of the same grade level in the nation. Students receive a percentile rank, which indicates how well they performed in comparison to peers in other states. If the number is 45, for example, students scored as well or better than 45% of students who took the test across the country. The national average for all schools is 50. The state's goal is for all students to score at or above the national average. Learn more on the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development assessment website.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

Only SBA and HSGQE results are included on GreatSchools profiles. For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level is displayed.

Why do the tests matter?

State assessment scores are important to schools because Alaska uses test results as the main criteria for designating each of its schools as being distinguished, successful, deficient or in crisis. Schools deemed "deficient" or "in crisis" will be required to submit plans for improvement.

For elementary and middle school students, decisions regarding grade-level promotion or retention are never based on test results alone. However, a score below proficient is one piece of evidence that might suggest that additional assistance is needed. For high school students, test results are extremely important because a passing score on the HSGQE is required for graduation. Students have multiple opportunities to retake the exam if they do not pass it the first time.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall scores for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring to a higher-performing school and for obtaining supplemental educational services.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

Search for Alaska Schools.

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