Report: Anchorage students making little progress in math

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BY DAVID BOYLE

Superintendent Deena Bishop tried to put a happy face on her report this week when she briefed the Anchorage School Board on math proficiency of students in grades three through nine.

But the results were disappointing at best, with little progress shown when it comes to student math scores.

Currently, only 37% of students in grades 3-9 in Anchorage are proficient in math according to the most recent PEAKS assessment. 

The district established a goal to have 55% of these grade 3-9 students proficient as measured by the state’s summative assessment—PEAKS by May 2026. If the target is met, 45% of this cohort of Anchorage students will be unable to do math problems at grade level by the end of school year 2026.  

The district’s goal is to have only half the students proficient in math by Spring 2022.  While achievable, it is a low target. Yet the district hopes for a massive 40% increase in math skills in the next two years (from 50% to 70%).

Between last school year and this school year the district hopes for just a 1.5% increase in student math proficiency. 

Note the decrease in math proficiency from the 2016-17 school year to the 2020-21 school year. Anchorage students saw a nearly 10-percentage point drop—a 17% overall drop.  

The district puts some of the blame for low math performance on the various student demographics — race, low income, homelessness, and special education. Still, white students and wealthy students were only about 73% proficient in math.

There is a “bright spot” in the ASD: According to a strategic planning document presented to the board on Jan. 6, 2020, “The overall graduation rate is a bright spot for ASD which is at an all-time historical high of 84%”.  

In other words, not even half of the students are proficient in math, yet they are being graduated out.

Looking back, PEAKS results for 2019 showed that 46% of third graders and 30% of ninth graders achieved ‘proficient” or higher scores on the PEAKS math assessment. What is happening to a student between the 3rd grade and 9th grade?  Here is the chart from January 2020 school board retreat:

In the chart above, students from all races actually became less math proficient between grade 3 and grade 9. 

In the past few years, the ASD has changed it math program from EveryDayMath (EDM) to GoMath to the current I-Ready Math.  The EDM program was a failure because it was too conceptual for most students and did not focus on foundational math concepts. 

This district considered several programs to replace EDM. One of these was Saxon Math.  However, Saxon Math was discarded early on.  But this math program seems to work very well in schools where it is being used:

SCHOOL  / PEAKS (Percent of students proficient and above)

ASD (overall) – 37%

Aquarian Charter School – 59%

Eagle Academy Charter School – 79%

Northern Lights ABC School  – 66%

Birchwood ABC School  – 58%

The numbers point to the curriculum as a cause of the poor math proficiency in the district.If a student does not have a good grasp of math basics, that student will have a difficult time in algebra and higher math.

A second cause of low student math proficiency may be the lack of effective classroom instruction. Bishop addressed this in her briefing but noted that it is still “a work in progress.”  There are no data provided regarding the effectiveness of classroom teachers, and “work in progress” is not particularly measurable.

The district does admit that increasing math proficiency requires effective instruction in the classroom. But it has not identified gaps and barriers to identify lower performing teachers and support for those teachers. 

The formula for excellent education is an effective classroom teacher, a motivated student, and an excellent curriculum.  

11 COMMENTS

  1. You know! When i looked into the faces of who work for ASD I see someone working in the wrong profession. You can have the motivation, possess the enthusiasm, and hate all the duties going with the job. There are appropriate child teachers/caregivers sidelined by ASD and preschools. They aren’t democrat enough to be hired. It doesn’t help that children haven’t been read to starting at birth. Read to them. I am broken record, just encourage the parents around yourself including you reading aloud to your child or another’s child. Starting with the first book and number one bestseller, the Bible.

  2. Is anyone surprised at this? They change curriculums for math like some people change shoes. How would teachers keep up with the changes and then they don’t want them to have planning time. Changing so often keeps the children confused. Go back to basics in math and reading AND see to it that each child is proficient before they are passed on to the next grade. The powers at be ie. school board and those in the administration building are now so interested in Critical Race Theory education, they won’t educate Alaska’s children. Oh I am
    sure the Chinese leaders are clapping their hands. Look up where Chinese students rank compared to our very own children.

  3. When they’re busy teaching all the kids “2+2=5” in all the other classes, it’s not a surprise math scores suffer. Don’t worry, when the grades get too low they stop grading the students at all, and that clears up those low scores nicely. 🙄

  4. Reading affects every subject. No one is reading, building the child literacy, then no better instructed math classes would make a difference improving scores when the childs reading literacy is 37 percent and lower. Frankly! They never get the parents to take initiative. maybe the teachers can do rotating volunteer based afterschool reading keeping kids for 2 and halfs working on reading, playing reading games, reading siliently an aloud, building vocab and phonics. If the teachers make excuses why they refuse to sacrifice 2 hours of unpaid work to serve their schools families, then asd hired the wrong people to be teachers. A real teacher serves sacrificially.

  5. Whenever anyone argues against “standardized testing,” they are saying that Teacher’s Unions should be allowed to NOT TEACH students and have zero consequences. We would not know this horrifying data if students did not have “standardized testing.”

    • Jon Alderson, You are correct. Matter of face, the State of AK went from the Iowa Tests of Basic Education to the California Achievement Test to the Standards Based Assessment Test (AK) to the Alaska Measures of Progress (AK) and finally to the current, very valid PEAKS test. It is difficult to measure progress when the goalposts keep getting moved over the past 20 years.

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