• The strength of Alaska’s plan is rooted in the acknowledgement that the state faces some of the most difficult demographic, geographic, and infrastructural challenges in the nation, yet it lays out a detailed plan to address those issues.


  • Alaska has a good balance of rigor and attainability in its long-term goals and measures of interim progress.


  • Alaska’s goal of cutting the achievement gap in half within 10 years provides a strong starting point for growth.


  • In addition to being simple, unique, and evidence-based, the state’s list of indicators places a strong focus on growth and achievement along with measuring college and career readiness.


  • Alaska’s 100-point system for grading schools is straightforward, as are the labels for each rating: superior, satisfactory, needs improvement, targeted support, or comprehensive support.


  • These school ratings incorporate subgroup performance across accountability indicators, and the chosen indicators emphasize both growth and achievement and keep the focus on academic progress. This grading system will help parents and other stakeholders understand all schools’ performance.




  • The state must overcome a recent history of instability with standards and assessments to create a foundation for future success.


  • Alaska’s school performance index lays out several good ideas, but the plan does not include historical data to show how rigorous it will be in differentiating schools.


  • The plan’s greatest weakness rests in its lack of rigor in identifying schools for support and the corresponding exit criteria. It’s difficult to determine whether the state’s methodology will result in identifying schools with students most in need.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Alaska scored in each category.



Alaska proposes a long-term goal of halving the percentage of students not reaching the proficient or advanced achievement levels by the 2026-27 school year.


Alaska proposes a long-term goal of reducing the percentage of students not reaching the proficient or advanced achievement levels on the Alaska Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS) assessment in English language arts (ELA) and in mathematics by half over 10 years. The state notes that it considered setting a common goal of 75 percent proficiency for all students and subgroups, but it received stakeholder feedback suggesting that goal was unattainable.


The long-term goal is for 69.2 percent of “all students” to be proficient or advanced in ELA and 65.9 percent to be proficient or advanced in math by the 2026-27 school year. A goal of cutting the gap in half requires that the lowest-performing subgroups in the state (Alaska Native/American Indian, economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and English learners) make more progress annually than the “all students” group. While these goals are ambitious they still fall far short of fully closing achievement gaps.


Considering Alaska’s unique challenges with geography and demographics, its goal to close the achievement gap by 50 percent for all children within 10 years is ambitious.


Alaska has set a long-term goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students and for each subgroup of students by the 2026-27 school year.


While Alaska’s long-term goal for academic achievement is not the same goal for all students at the end of 10 years, the graduation rate data over the previous five years indicates that it is realistic for all groups to attain the annual increases needed to reach the same long-term goal for the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate.


The gap between the 10-year graduation rate and proficiency goals indicates that many students will receive diplomas without achieving proficiency.


Alaska proposes a long-term goal of 70 percent for English learners making progress in achieving English language proficiency as measured by the statewide English language proficiency assessment.



Alaska claims to have adopted more rigorous academic standards in 2012 but the recent instability around state assessment administration raises questions about whether Alaska’s accountability system is based on high-quality standards and assessments.


Alaska’s plan declares that the state adopted more rigorous math and English Language Arts standards in 2012. The timing would suggest the standards are aligned with the college- and career-ready standards that many states adopted around the same time. Based on stakeholder input, the state has decided to keep the standards in place.


Alaska’s assessment system is in flux. In 2015, Alaska administered the Alaska Measures of Progress, which was aligned to the standards. Due to technical issues, the state did not assess students in 2016. In 2017, the state administered a new assessment (PEAKS) for the first time. Alaska indicates that it plans to administer PEAKS going forward, but the state is considering transitioning to end-of-course tests in high school. However, it does appear to be aligned to the state standards.


Alaska does not currently offer assessments in any language other than English despite having a student population where 42 percent of students speak different dialects of the Yup’ik languages and 10 percent speak Spanish.


Lastly, Alaska could strengthen its plan by providing more information about its alternate achievement standards and aligned assessments for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities and ensuring that it has a process in place to meet the 1 percent cap on alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.



Alaska is using straightforward and valid measures of achievement, growth, graduation rates, and English language proficiency (ELP).


For K-8 schools, Alaska has the following indicators: achievement in ELA and math, growth on ELA and math, English language proficiency progress, chronic absenteeism, reading by third grade, and interim assessments. For high schools, the indicators are: achievement in ELA and math, ELP progress, four-year graduation rate, five-year graduation rate, chronic absenteeism, freshman on track, and Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS) eligibility.


The state will weigh academic indicators heavily: 90 percent in K-8 and 85 percent in high schools. The chronic absenteeism measure evaluates student-level attendance. Each student who misses at least 10 percent or more of school days will be deemed chronically absent.


The state chose five measures of school quality and student success. Four of the five include research-based measures: chronic absenteeism, reading by third grade, freshman on track, and Alaska Performance Scholarship eligibility.


The final school quality indicator is a measure of student participation in interim assessments in grades K-8, to encourage schools to administer such tests and use them to inform instruction. While there is evidence that strategic use of formative assessments improves student outcomes, it is unclear that a higher quantity of such assessments will do so. Alaska might improve this indicator by establishing state guidance for quality and administration of interim assessments, including performing an assessment audit and ensuring that assessments are aligned to Alaska standards.


Schools will get more points for students who make more progress and achieve proficiency or better, although they will also receive points for some students who declined in achievement level from one year to the next.


The state will calculate achievement in compliance with the 95 percent requirement and weight the four-year cohort graduation rate (20 percent) at double the five-year rate (10 percent).


Of concern is the fact that only the “all students” group is included in the accountability system, meaning that subgroup improvement is not incentivized. Overall, however, the accountability indicators and weighting are aligned to the state’s academic and graduation rate goals.



Alaska weights both growth and achievement—but does not place special emphasis on getting students to proficiency.


Alaska weights both growth and achievement heavily in the accountability system for grades K-8. For grades K-8, Alaska calculates growth based on improvement on the state reading and math assessments from one year to the next across categories (e.g., basic proficient to proficient). Schools receive points for moving a student at any level to a higher level, or for maintaining a student at a given level (with more points received for maintaining at higher levels). Schools also receive (albeit fewer) points for students who decline in achievement from year to year. This system creates disincentives for schools to prioritize growth for all kids.


Alaska does not have a growth measure for high schools.


Additionally, the state’s plan lacks significant details and clarity on the frequency and content pertaining to the high school assessment system. The state needs to better articulate how it will test students in high school and how schools will be held accountable.



While Alaska’s system will provide transparent reporting on the progress and achievement of all students, it falls short on robust identification of schools with struggling subgroups.  


On the positive side, Alaska uses a low minimum group size of 10 for student subgroups and factors subgroups meaningfully into school ratings. For example, to earn the top designation, a school must have all subgroups meeting measures of interim progress and long-term goals. A school cannot be rated “satisfactory” (the second designation) if identified for comprehensive or targeted support. While the state has set measures of progress and goals, it has yet to determine the threshold index scores for school designations.


However, the state’s proposed methodology of identifying schools for targeted support and improvement is not robust. The definition of “consistently underperforming” sets a very high bar for identification and is unlikely to capture all or most of the schools with students who need additional support.



Alaska’s plan details a 100-point index system that it will use to differentiate all public schools in the state, but it is unclear whether the state’s plan for differentiation is rigorous.


All accountability indicators will be included in the index, and schools will earn points based on their performance level on each indicator. The number of points earned is the sum of the points earned for each indicator according to the point attribution tables. Each school will receive an overall score from 0 to 100, which will determine one of five designations: superior, satisfactory, needs improvement, targeted support, or comprehensive support.


Alaska schools won’t receive designations until the 2018-19 school year, as the state will base initial designations on the 2017-2018 accountability system data. As a result, the cut points for the overall score and academic performance that schools need to have in order to qualify for each of the five designations is not detailed in the state’s ESSA plan. Without this information, it is unclear whether the state’s plan for differentiation is rigorous. The lowest two categories—targeted and comprehensive support—follow the letter of the law but do not go beyond it to address Alaska’s specific needs.


The proposed method for identifying schools for targeted support sets a very high bar for identification, and may result in few, if any, identified schools.


Alaska will identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools for comprehensive support intervention consistent with the statutory requirement.


The state will rank all schools based on their overall index scores and lack of progress over the previous three years, but a school will not be identified if all of its subgroups are meeting the measures of interim progress on the academic indicators. Schools’ rankings are based on the performance of all students. This system is focused on school performance on academic indicators and considers whether a school is improving.


The proposed methodology for identifying schools for targeted support is weak. Alaska will identify schools for “additional targeted support” consistent with the minimum statutory requirement—schools with subgroups performing below the highest level of comprehensive support schools. The state will identify schools with “consistently underperforming” subgroups only if they underperform on all indicators in the system (with thresholds not yet determined) for two consecutive years, aren’t meeting any of the measures of interim progress on academic indicators, and have not shown any improvement on any indicator for two consecutive years. This is a very high bar for identification, and may result in few, if any, identified schools.



Alaska doesn’t provide much information on planned interventions in struggling schools or on how it will support districts and schools in choosing evidence-based improvement strategies.


In addition, the state’s intervention strategies are vague and the timeline for intervention is protracted.


Alaska‘s plan commits to additional oversight and involvement in schools that don’t make progress and lists a range of possible interventions—including convening a state-led support team as well as replacing teachers and principals. However, the interventions aren’t prioritized, and it’s unclear what the state will ultimately commit to doing.


Alaska will periodically review resource allocation to support school improvement in each district in the state serving a significant number or percentage of schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement. The state does not provide detail on how funds, including the 7 percent set aside, will be used and how it intends to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent of funds set aside.



Alaska has weak criteria for identified schools to exit improvement status.


On the one hand, identified schools must perform one level better on each indicator than they performed for initial identification to exit comprehensive support status. This is stronger than states that propose a single criterion of no longer being in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools. However, Alaska indicates that schools will meet the exit criteria even if they are still in the bottom 5 percent after three years. It is unclear how likely this is to occur or precisely how levels will be defined.


It is also unclear whether a school will be re-identified if it is still in the bottom 5 percent after meeting exit criteria.


Based on the language in the plan, there is certainly the potential for schools remaining in the bottom 5 percent to exit comprehensive support status without having made sufficient or meaningful improvement. Therefore, the exit criteria for comprehensive support would be much stronger if this component were removed.


For high schools identified for a low graduation rate, the sole exit criterion proposed is that the school must have achieved an overall graduation rate of 67 percent or higher. This is a minimal criterion and will do little to ensure that these schools have achieved meaningful or sustainable progress in increasing graduation rates.


Alaska proposes that to exit targeted support status, the subgroup for which the school was identified must have improved one level on each indicator in the accountability system, which does not require deep or sustained improvement. In addition, it is unclear how robust this will be in practice.



Alaska has a strong plan in place for including a diverse set of stakeholders to support struggling schools.


A local, community-focused, “all-hands-on-deck” approach to school improvement is likely to yield results for the schools most in need. However, the state plan does not include much about how it will continue stakeholder engagement and continuously improve.

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