Alaska Kids Make Modest Gains in National Testing

In Alaska public education there is good news and bad news. The good news is that upper/middle income students are improving in national test scores. Yet the bad news is that low income students are falling farther behind their counterparts in the U.S.

by Bob Griffin

But Alaska Kids Still Lagging Nationally, Especially in Low-Income Reading

It’s encouraging that the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing conducted by the US Dept of Education showed some modest gains for Alaska kids compared to other states and DC in 2013.  Alaska kids improved their ranking in 6 of the 8 main NAEP categories, when broken-down by economic status**. The biggest gains came in upper/middle income 8th grade reading — in this category Alaska improved from 42nd to 36th, moving up six positions in the last two years and moving up eleven positions since our 47th place ranking in 2003.
The exceptions to the positive news — Alaska’s low-income students reading scores.  Alaska kids dropped from 49th in the US to 50th in low-income 8th grade reading with scores that were actually lower than upper/middle-income 4th-graders in Massachusetts.  This is actually a pretty stunning development– 2015 is the first year that 4th graders in any state have outperformed 8th graders in reading in another state, using economic status as a discriminator.  Low income 4th grade reading in Alaska was the only other category where students didn’t move up. They maintained their dead last ranking (51st), behind low income kids in every state and the District of Columbia.

Though our NAEP test gains over the last two years are a positive sign, it’s still hard not to be disturbed by the fact that Alaska has such an enormous achievement gap, when compared to the most successful states.  In 2015 Alaska students lagged between 1.1 and 2.3 school years in achievement behind their highest achieving counterparts in other states.  This is especially alarming given that Alaska spends more per capita on K-12 education than any other state according to the latest figures from National Education Association.

So, there is some good news but the bad news that our low income students are falling farther behind their counterparts in the other states.  We need to ask the question, Why?

This chart shows the 2 categories of students based on Free and Reduced Price Lunch eligibility.  The center column, 2015, shows how many classroom days Alaska students are behind other selected states.

bob griffin naep article nov 2015


*Classroom day difference calculation is based on observations from Dr Mathew Ladner of the Foundation for Excellence in Education: Between 4th and 8th grade students usually see a 40 point growth in their NAEP math and reading test scores; an average of one test point increase for every 18 classroom days of instruction.

** The break point for determining a student’s economic status is whether or not they qualify for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL).  Kids who qualify for FRPL are considered low income; kids who don’t, are considered upper/middle income.