Alaska Legislature Passes Bill to Suspend Statewide Standardized Testing Until 2020

Published June 8, 2016

The Alaska legislature passed legislation to put a hold on all statewide standardized testing, to give the state time to reassess how closely it wants to align with federal standards.

Alaska was one of fourstates never to adopt Common Core, choosing instead to implement its own test, the “Alaska Measures of Progress” (AMP). Alaska education officials canceled the online AMP test, which was highly criticized and due to be canceled after its second year, in the spring of 2016 after technical glitches led to mass confusion and questions about the test’s validity.

The legislature passed House Bill 156 on May 5, 2016. The bill currently awaits a signature from the governor. If approved, the bill will, among other things, cancel standardized testing in Alaska schools until 2020, at which time students will take a brand new test created with input from parents, teachers, and education experts.

Federal Money Matters

David Boyle of the Alaska Policy Forum says legislators are concerned the state will lose money from the federal government if they don’t test.

“We get about $100 million of federal aid in education,” Boyle said. “If we don’t have a standardized test because of our NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waiver, they can pull all that money back. So in the bill, [the legislators] put, we’re not going to do standardized testing until the 2020 school year; however, if the federal government pulls back some of their education money, or a portion of it, then we’ll change our mind. We’ll have to do something else.”

Despite the concern over losing the federal government’s financial support, HB 156 is designed to maintain local control, Boyle says.

“Now, just like any state, the feds control education quite a bit because of that money,” Boyle said. “There are a couple other parts of the bill, one [of which] is putting local control and accountability at the school level and the district level versus the state level. The bill’s intent was to push the federal control away, push them out of the state. We’ll take their money, but we don’t want them to have any say in our education here in the state.”

‘Take a Breather’

State Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla), who sponsored HB 156, says the state certainly does not intend to stop tracking its students’ educational attainment, but it’s time for Alaskans to “take a breather” and assess the demands of the federal government.

“It’s hard to know where to start on this, but it goes clear back to the federal orchestrating of the state education system, back with Race to the Top, and of course with the Secondary Education Act, No Child Left Behind, and now the Every Student Succeeds Act,” said Keller. “All of those things influence what happens in our education system in the state of Alaska. As legislators, we’ve found ourselves in a hard place. We get angry parents who are angry specifically about the assessments for several reasons.

“We also had teachers contacting us saying, ‘We don’t have time to teach anymore. All we’re doing is giving tests required by the federal government,'” Keller said. “So we found ourselves in a situation where we just couldn’t do much about it.”

Keller says he expects school districts and the state’s Department of Education to continue to assess students.

“It isn’t anybody trying to say we shouldn’t assess our students,” Keller said. “It has to do with how the data is used and what kind of tests they are, and what the goals of Common Core are.”