Research & Commentary: Alaska Requests Standardized Testing Waiver

Published July 12, 2016

In June, the Alaska Department of Education (ADOE) requested the federal government “waive its standardized testing requirement” after the state was unable to complete its statewide standardized test, the Alaska Measures of Progress during the 2015–16 school year. According to ADOE, failure to complete the test resulted from a “severed fiber optic cable at the University of Kansas, where Alaska’s testing service provider is based.”

The request made to the federal government comes after the Alaska State Legislature passed House Bill 156, which would place “a hold on all statewide standardized testing” until 2020, giving the state time to assess how to adequately measure educational progress.  

Alaska may be the first state to request a waiver that encompasses all of its students, but it’s not the first state to have problems with complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which retained the standardized testing mandate implemented as part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

Some experts argue standardized testing is negatively impacting students. In 2014, the Council of the Great City Schools launched a survey to determine the effects of such testing. Published in October 2015, the study found a typical student will take nearly 112 mandated tests between kindergarten and 12th grade, and the study estimates a typical 8th grader spends over 25 hours during the school year completing standardized tests.

According to the study, “[S]ome tests are not well aligned to each other, are not specifically aligned with college-or-career-ready standards, and often do not assess student mastery of any specific content.” The study found 39 percent of reporting districts claimed waiting between two and four months for results to be available, “thereby minimizing their utility for instructional purposes.” Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council for Great City Schools, told The Washington Post regarding the study’s conclusions, “The result is an assessment system that’s not very intelligent and not coherent.”

Although Alaska is the first state to specifically ask the federal government for a waiver from testing assessment mandates, some cities and local areas have already chosen to opt out of standardized testing. Fair Test, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, reports over 670,000 students opted-out of required standardized tests in 2015 in school districts across the country. Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and Washington State were among the states with the highest number of students opting out of standardized testing assessments.

Alaska’s waiver request is another example of how standardized testing requirements imposed by the federal government negatively impact education quality. A faulty wire located in Kansas should not be the reason students in public schools in Alaska are not eligible to receive federal education funding. Through its failing policies, the federal government is forcing ineffective, costly, and burdensome requirements on states that provide few, if any, benefits. State legislators and local education officials should be in control of designing their own educational plans for the purpose of creating quality system that fosters the unique educational needs specific to their communities. Federal standards are clearly not working for the State of Alaska or for the rest of the United States.

The following documents provide more information on standardized testing.

Alaska Legislature Passes Bill to Suspend Statewide Standardized Testing Until 2020
Alaska is one of four states to choose not to adopt Common Core and instead implement its own test, the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP). In June 2016, the state canceled the criticized online AMP test due to technical difficulties that “led to mass confusion and questions about the test’s validity,” reports Elizabeth BeShears in The Heartlander.

States Explore Alternatives to Standardized Testing
Evelyn B. Stacey, a research assistant at the Hoover Institution, writes in The Heartlander about how states are exploring alternatives to current standardized testing models.

Requiring Standardized Testing Undermines School Choice
Jason Bedrick, an education policy analyst for the Cato Institute, writes in this Heartlander article about a proposal in Georgia that would have placed additional regulations on the state’s scholarship tax-credit program. Bedrick reports many experts believe requiring private schools to administer standardized testing would create too much financial pressure and suppress diversity.

Standardized Tests’ Common Core Alignment
In this policy outline, Lennie Jarratt, project manager for education transformation at The Heartland Institute, provides an overview of standardized testing and specifies which of the most popular and commonly available tests are Common Core-aligned.

Were All Those Standardized Tests for Nothing? The Lessons of No Child Left Behind
This paper, provided by the American Enterprise Institute, reviews the basic structure of school incentives introduced by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which introduced the first nationwide standardized testing mandate, required annually, for students in grades 3 through 8. The study also reviews research and data provided by North Carolina public schools and the effect the various tests have had on student learning outcomes.

How Well Are American Students Learning?
A series of data analyses from the Brookings Institution find no link between high state standards and high student achievement. “Every state already has standards placing all districts and schools within its borders under a common regime. And despite that, every state has tremendous within-state variation in achievement,” says the latest such report. Based on every state’s experience with standards and corresponding tests over the past 30 years, the study authors see no evidence to believe Common Core will improve student achievement. 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database at

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