Shocking: Reading scores in Anchorage dropped between fall and winter of 2021

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By DAVID BOYLE

Anchorage School District leaders presented an update on reading proficiency in grades K-2.  The results are disappointing and unsettling. In summary, reading proficiency from the fall to winter of 2021 dropped in every demographic.

This is not good news for parents, students and Anchorage School District staff.  Most of the board members were silent when this information was presented on Jan. 18.  Anchorage Board Member Dave Donley asked about a 2019 report regarding the correlation between the new curriculum and reading progress. The district had no relevant response.

Most schools in Anchorage underperformed.  Here is a summary of the K-2 students at or above grade level showing the decrease in achievement from fall to winter:

The scores for all the K-2 grades decreased from nearly 42% above the benchmark to about 35% above the benchmark from fall to winter, a dramatic fall of about 20% of all K-2 students from the benchmark.  

Clearly, something is broken.

Only the white/non-Hispanic and the lottery schools (charter and alternative) performed above targeted goal. Here is the chart broken down by every demographic:

Note that even the white and wealthy children dropped in achievement from fall to winter.  

Anchorage and Alaska has provided adequate funding, according to Superintendent Deena Bishop, yet our children are failing in reading. It’s important to note that children were back in the classroom when these data were collected.  

Is the curriculum not working? Are the teachers ineffective in teaching reading to K-2? Are the face masks impeding the learning process? 

Superintendent Bishop stated that the lottery schools did well because they are probably upper socio-economic class. Lottery schools are attractive to parents who want to send their children to a school not within their designated area. They are hard to get into and the applications must be made annually and are not guaranteed year to year.

Bishop said, “It isn’t that our kids haven’t learned the longer they are with us. It’s that they’re trying to catch up but the goalposts keep moving for them. It doesn’t mean there is not growth, it’s just not the expected growth.”

The chart above would seem to contradict the fact that “kids haven’t learned the longer they are with us.” Board Member Carl Jacobs questioned if the assessments were too ambitious and implied that he wants to lower the standards so the students would look more proficient. 

Lowering the goalposts will not improve reading proficiency. But that will make it appear there are improvements.

School Board Member Kelly Lessens probed deeper by asking about the cause of the drop in reading, or the “elephant in the room.”  

Bishop said that there were several factors. She named them: consistent (or lack of consistent) instruction, staffing shortages, behavioral issues, Covid, and the earthquake. Thus, student learning took a backseat.  All these barriers were the “elephant in the room.”

Note that the earthquake occurred several years ago (2018) and the K-2 students were not in the classroom then. Why isn’t there not consistent instruction? 

Twenty schools were above target and 38 schools were below target in the fall. That dropped to 13 schools above target and 51 schools below target in the winter.  

Bishop said, “Wealth probably has the most to do with that, or socio-economic status.”

But all children decreased in proficiency, regardless of socio-economic status.

The district should drill down to the classroom level and determine what teachers are the most effective in teaching reading. Take those best practices and implement them in all classrooms.

The per-student cost in the ASD is more than $19,000, according to its audited report. Money is not the solution.  Pre-K is not the solution if the district cannot teach K-2 children to read at grade level.  

David Boyle is former executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum and is Must Read Alaska’s education writer.

34 COMMENTS

  1. If there was a curriculum change corresponding to the drop in scores, that is a pretty good indicator of the problem… BTW David, if you are going to write as a critic of the education establishment (sorely needed), then be careful to proofread your work! Please explain what you be by the double negative, “Why isn’t there not consistent instruction?” – maybe I understand you…

    • Rich T. Thanks for pointing that out. My eyesight is getting worse–seeing double at times and getting tired. I will correct that and some other typos in the text.

    • Yeah, more money that’ll fix it Frank. How much do we spend on students now? So we can wrestle with Mississippi and Arkansas for worst schools in the country…..ASD has a massive operating budget as it is, a boatload of money is spent, the test scores speak for themselves. Increasing costs to taxpayers??? Get real, we can’t spend our way out of bad policy.

    • It’s a good reason to start pushing for a restoration of the family unit, instead of pushing parents to subcontract childcare.
      .
      Maybe I am just old fashioned, but my parents read to, and with, me as a child. I was reading well above my grade. Not because I am a genius, but because it was a skill my parents choose to teach me.
      .
      What does pre-K education do? Nothing. It is government funded childcare. Do you really think that a child will learn how to read better in a classroom full of pre-K children, or at home, with one-on-one attention from a parent?

    • No a good reason for parents to be more involved and teach their children to read. No way shape or form is this a reason to hand over more money to education or the unions which represent them. The are already paid to do a job, time for them to provide, what they are paid for.

  2. Super Bishop- if lottery applicants are open to everyone than how can it be attributed to wealth or socioeconomic status? Is there more information regarding this assumption?

    $19,000k per student? School vouchers could stimulate an economy far beyond the walls of a traditional public schools. Imagine the jobs this would create!
    Private reading tutors, science and math educators can immediately improve this poor rating since reading is integral to all subjects.

    • Chris, you are correct. For Mrs. Bishop blaming the success of lottery schools on economics is a lazy excuse.
      The difference is that many lottery schools are ABC schools or back to basic schools. They have a different curriculum and teach things like phonics and math that makes sense. It is all in the approach and has nothing to do with the parents financial status. My vote goes to school vouchers and for that we need a state convention to get rid of the Blaine amendment.

      • AFH and Chris Bye, there is one problem with the lottery schools. The students must provide their own transportation even though the ASD gets about $500 for that student’s transportation from the State. Low income and esp single parents cannot provide transportation so their kids are shut out.

        • I have known parents, who carpooled or made arrangements with grandparents, relatives/friends, or before and after school programs, so their kids can go to a lottery school. If it is important it can be done. The point is that none of the kids at lottery schools are smarter, the schools simply have a different approach to learning and it shows. But blaming it on socioeconomic gives the ASD an out and a way not to have to look to closely why these schools do better. It is especially galling since public education is supposed to level the field by providing a good education to all.

  3. I am sure it did! This doesn’t mean the children are any less nor dumber. It just shows the parents aren’t helping their child live up to their potential. Their brain is the size as kids brains 150 years earlier. How many times do i say this education is personal and family matter starting at home. A better Socio economic background? Hogwash. Children grow up betters readers when their parent reads to them and with them up to three hours a day. Child has incentive and interest seeing their parents reading books for enjoyment and education. Remember the time is just as important as what book you or child reads. Just because of your tween reads dictionary sized harry potter series it doesn’t mean the child improves the minds health nor their soul health.

    • As families our children will improve their literature appreciation and literacy if parents read the books dated during our childhood and their grandparents childhood years because of better quality in pictures and storytelling.

      • As I’ve have said before…PARENTS are a child’s FIRST teacher…from the time of birth! I agree that parents should read to a child from an early age….BUT perhaps the parent doesn’t know how to read! Then perhaps we should help the parent to learn to read also. Even in this day and age…it could happen especially in the villages! I’m not prejudicial…just realistic!!

  4. Part of the problem could be that kids are not the primary beneficiaries of per student funding since just over 89% of it goes to staff salaries & benefits.

    • Winner!
      .
      Seriously. How many administrators, vice principals, and principals does a school need anyway? What exactly do they do?
      .
      I attended a HS (more years ago than I want to admit) with over 1,000 students in it. There was one principal, and one vice principal. Two, maybe three “guidance counselors” and that was the management. These days, a school with less than half the students has two-three times the staff.

  5. ASD & its bureaucratic bloated system is where all this money is going.
    They hire at high wages lil minions to go into schools & tell highly skilled experienced teachers how to teach as if they were idiots. Take in mind these minions are less skilled than most of the teachers they have been given authority over yet are placed over. It’s an insult to those teachers who are truly dedicated experienced and who put their students first.
    ASD is hell bent on putting their agenda above students & teachers. Look at the fruit and it speaks for itself.
    We are going to see a greater move of amazing gifted teachers leaving the profession. They are fed up! They have no one to advocate for them and the superintendent & her minions are lying on many fronts to move forward with their agenda. It is time to cut the funds. As a former ASD employee, I for the first time will no longer be approving any funding to an ASD budget.
    How many parents are aware that highly skilled specialists, Music, Art, PE are being told they are now to cancel classes at the beck & call of their Principal, to fill staffing shortages within their schools? How many parents know that their student may not have these classes because their principal who is following ASD protocol, are told they have to cancel their classes to do recess duty? Is that how we want our schools to be run? Why are we turning teacher against teacher with this class warfare?
    If you are a specialist with in ASD, you are a second class citizen. A highly trained teacher with two degrees as well as a masters degree is not allowed to do what they are highly trained at but instead has to cancel classes to be a recess duty. This practice by ASD & implemented by their Principals is appalling!. They are expected to drop their schedules at the last minute to be a special Ed TA, a recess duty, reading buddy etc & even a fill in Principal! Unacceptable!
    Why not have those “know it all” minions from the over paid bloated ASD administrative building come fill these gaps and let our teachers teach!!!

    • Yes, it is very sad that the excellent teachers are discouraged and demoralized due to what is happening to the curriculum in our schools. These excellent teachers could always go to teach in a private school, tutor, or start a learning pod for home schoolers. Thanks for teaching our kids.

  6. Duh? Really? Isolate kids, force them to wear face diapers, and have teachers in full hysteria. It would have required an act of God to not lose ground

  7. Until parents have a seat at the table nothing will change. The teachers are controlled by the left unions, department of education, school book publishers,etc. Follow the $$$$

  8. Note that SB111 will probably be heard on the Senate Floor next week. That bill brings Pre-K to Alaska school districts. If the ASD cannot teach K-2 kids how to read, then how can one expect it to teach pre-K kids how to read? And buckets of $$$$ are in this bill which sunsets in 2034!

    • David, sometime you and I should talk about what Senate Bill 111 actually does (Reading intervention (“Read-By-9 yrs old” program), targeted pre-K).
      Venting hyperbole in social media serves no purpose. And, in your last sentence, you seem to be against the 2034 sunset… if a program doesn’t work, wouldn’t you rather that it automatically goes away, and if it works, a future legislature has to take action to keep it…
      Roger Holland, Senate District N, Senate Education Chair
      Cell: 907-351-8277

      • I’ll get with you next week. What about the ASD students losing proficiency between the fall and winter? Tough.

        • Not too inexplicable… those are just two points in a long line of performance or lack thereof. If it trended upward between winter and spring 2022, I would not be crowing that all our problems are over.
          I think ASD has several problems in addition to failing to focus on the three R’s and getting beyond COVID by trying to return to some version of life and teaching as normal.

  9. This proves that parents take less interest in their child’s development than the school system. The problem is the parents, not the schools. Parents need to be held accountable for treating the school system like a daycare; but parents just aren’t worried about creating productive human beings.

  10. Surprise? Surprise that basic learning vanishes when indoctrination becomes the #1 priority?

    Shocking? Someone….anyone who hadn’t understood that those who can’t read are more easily subjugated?

  11. This whole discussion on reading just shows how uneducated the general public is. Sure, could parents be better. Yep. Should teachers have more freedom. Yep. Would it be great if all parents read to their kids hours a day. Sure. That might help with auditory comprehension and verbal vocabulary. But until we actually implement the science of reading in a way that teaches ALL kids to read from age 5 up we are going to always leave 20% or more of kids from reading anywhere near their personal potential. Because 1/5 kids have some version of dyslexia. This translates to trouble reading word problems, writing, sometimes math, taking standardised tests and so on. All kids can learn like dyslexic kiddos learn to read, but dyslexic kids cannot learn the way the current curriculum is. Their deficits growing each year and often going unnoticed until they are so far behind that they have low self esteem and behavior problems. Hence why reading should be taught from the beginning the dyslexic way. Decidable books, structured spelling and reading, orton gillingham based instruction, multi-sensory etc. There are copious amounts of science including fMRIs that show how the wiring in the brain is different in 1/5 of people. So to all of you who think “going back to basics” and if “we just taught the fundamentals again”, please educate yourself of the current science of reading. Maybe if we all push for dyslexia laws and instruction on a State of AK level, and change how we teach reading and writing we might actually all our kids a fighting chance at literacy. It’s all a downstream effect from kids falling behind in reading K and beyond. As a Mom of two kids and many family members who fall in the group that needs to learn different, I can say scores often correlate minimally to intelligence when measuring kids on reading or writing when they are have symptoms in the dyslexia constellation. International dyslexia association (IDA) has some wonderful resources for those who would like to stop spouting hyperbole and learn what can be done better. Here is a link showing what impact this kind of teaching can do. It’s not about more money it’s about wiping the slate clean and changing the curriculum. Please, please, point your energy and frustration about the scores to mandating that reading is taught in a way all kids can learn. This is one of those things that needs a state law to make these ridiculous school districts do the right thing.

    ‘https://www.house.mi.gov/hfa/PDF/SchoolAid/SchAid_MDE_Subcmte_Testimony_IMSE_Presentation_3-4-20.pdf

    • DF, Thank you so much for pointing out that one curriculum re reading does not fit all students. It seems as if dyslexia is more prevalent than before.

      • Dave- Incorrect. One curriculum DOES in fact fit all students, it’s the one geared to teaching decodable reading. Like I said before, ALL kids can learn to read with the same curriculum that is used for dyslexia. That is the drum you should be beating. Curriculum would need to change and teachers would need to be educated on a new way to teach reading in the early years. It would be a large undertaking but a necessary one. Just for fun look up incarceration numbers and reading problems/illiteracy. Want to save money for society later on jail and mental health, teach reading early and correctly based off science. Teach math strategy that aligned with this type of multi sensory and systematic instruction. Don’t wait for kids to fail so the district will pay for testing, to then get IEPs or 504 plans that cost schools money and time. Teach it in a way that all can learn early. That makes sense for the kids and for budget. I would love to see the loudest conservative and liberal voices put their efforts together in a direction that may actually work for kids. The way I look at it, no matter who you are we are better producing future generations who are literate and can work and produce taxable income vs paying to incarcerate.

        For even more fun reading showing that the legislature is aware of the issues, as are the school districts but haven’t changed a thing- given this report is from 2018 and it’s now 2022…

        ‘https://akhouse.org/drummond/docs/TaskForce-FinalReport2.pdf

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