Chugiak-Eagle River schools among district’s best

Thursday, November 2, 2017 - 17:37

A wooded corner of the Municipality of Anchorage is growing a crop of the Anchorage School District’s top students.

According to results of the state’s most recent student assessments, Homestead Elementary, Gruening Middle School and Eagle River High School — all of which are located within a mile of one another along the slopes of the Eagle River Valley — are among the top academic schools in the district: Homestead ranked first among all 58 ASD elementary schools in math proficiency rates, Gruening was tops among eight ASD middle schools in science (and second and math and English), while ERHS ranked first among eight ASD high schools in English, second in math and third in science.

Eagle River Valley schools didn’t entirely hog the spotlight among Chugiak-Eagle River schools, as Mirror Lake topped the charts in proficiency among ASD middle school English programs and ranked in the top three spots in all three assessments among ASD middle schools. And an Eagle River charter school, Eagle Academy, had the top overall scores in the state, with math proficiency of 80 percent — more than double the statewide average.

ERHS principal Marty Lang said the results are an affirmation of the work done by staff and students at the school, which is the smallest of ASD’s eight public high schools.

“It is in that we’ve been able to maintain a high standard and be one of the top performing schools in both the district and state,” Lang said.

However, like most schools in ASD and Alaska, Eagle River’s students scored below proficient in many areas in the first year of new Performance Evaluation for Alaska Schools (PEAKS) Assessments in math and English.

“It’s clear we still have work to do,” Lang said.

Lang said he’s proud of the fact his school is one of the district’s best, a feeling he said is shared among the school’s faculty.

“My staff is pleased because it’s recognition of for the hard work they do with the kids,” he said.

High marks among area schools were one of the big takeaways from the results of the annual assessment, which were released in September on the state’s website. All 11 public schools in Chugiak-Eagle River were in the top half of all ASD schools on all three assessments, with several local schools ranking near the top of the list — including Homestead, which was the only elementary school to rank in the top four on all three assessments; Birchwood ABC, which had the third-highest proficiency rate in science; and Ravenwood Elementary, which had the fifth-highest proficiency rate in English, eighth in math and 11th in science.

Gruening principal Bobby Jefts said he was pleased with how well his school did relative to other schools in the district, and credited his staff with Gruening’s high marks.

“I think a lot of it has to do with our department chairs, the curriculum chairs really accept their leadership roles in providing guidance,” he said.

Chugiak-Eagle River scores were high relative to the rest of Anchorage, where results varied widely between schools in the nation’s 97th largest district. Among the top elementary schools for example, proficiency rates were well above 50 percent of students on all three tests, while some low-performing schools showed dismal rates — including 10 elementary schools that failed to achieve 20 percent proficiency on at least two of the three assessments. The spread was similar at the high school and middle school levels, with top schools more than doubling the proficiency rates of their counterparts with the lowest scores.

The assessments were given in the spring to students in grades three through 10. Math and English assessments were given to each of those grades, with the science assessment only given to fourth, eighth and tenth grade students. Students were assessed based on “proficiency” on the tests, with students divided into either proficient/advanced or below/far below proficient categories. No ASD high school had proficiency rates above 42 percent on either of the new tests, which were implemented for the first time last year.

ASD superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said the test scores provide a good “baseline” to look at for future years. However, she also admitted the numbers need to improve.

“The reality is students around the United States and frankly in other countries who were provided this same standard are performing better,” she said.

Lang said he likes the fact the state’s standards are among the nation’s most rigorous.

“To quote President Obama, we can’t pander to the soft bigotry of low expectations for kids,” he said.

Jefts agreed with Lang, saying the tougher standards are good for showing how students stack up.

“More rigor in curriculum and academic standards, that’s a good thing,” he said.

Although some of the numbers may seem grim — none of the eight public high schools had better than 36 percent of its students proficient in math, with six failing to surpass 25 percent proficiency — the Anchorage School District actually stacked up well against the rest of Alaska. According to the state, students in ASD outperformed the statewide average on all three assessments, with 40 percent of ASD students reaching proficiency in English, 36 percent in math and 47 percent in science — compared to 38 percent of students statewide in English, 31 percent in math and 46 percent in science.

Additionally, the new standards are harder than in years past, Dr. Bishop said. She pointed to a grade by EducationNext which showed Alaska’s standards went from 49th most rigorous in 2013 to 13th in the most recent report card by the education journal.

Household income played a major role in assessment scores, with economically disadvantaged students — approximately one in three ASD students, according to the state — less than half as likely to score proficient or advanced as their peers on all three tests. According to the state, such students achieved proficiency just 23 percent of the time in math, 26 percent in English and 32 percent in science — compared to 51 percent of not economically disadvantaged students in math, 56 percent in English and 65 percent in science.

Dr. Bishop said the numbers give insight into some of the challenges faced by the district.

“We have a disproportionality of achievement among our students,” she said.

The standardized assessments, she said, can help the district see areas that need more attention.

“How do we accomplish that? It’s probably not going to look the same at every school,” she said.

But Dr. Bishop said she has high hopes for improvement.

“It’s very clear there are some lines of division and our goal is to say no matter what your zip code, you’re going to have an excellent education in the Anchorage School District,” she said.

The complete results — including grade-by-grade and school-by-school breakdowns — can be found online at education.alaska.gov/assessments/results/results2017

UPDATE: This story has been altered from its previous version to include mention of the high test scores at Eagle Academy Charter School, which was omitted from the original story.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com or call (907) 205-0082

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