Seward schools fare well under new rating system

Seward Middle School students figure out how to work their new combination lockers at a recent 7th grade orientation. Heidi Zemach photo

Seward Middle School students figure out how to work their new combination lockers at a recent 7th grade orientation. Heidi Zemach photo

Seward’s children and educators who headed back to school today (Tuesday, August 20th ) will no longer be working under the provisions of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind. Many states and educators have criticized that system for having a one-size fits all approach. Alaska is one of 40 states, along with the District of Columbia, approved by waiver to opt out of the federal school ratings system, and provide a new public schools accountability system of their own.

Seward Elementary, Seward Middle, Seward High School, Moose Pass, Hope, and Cooper Landing schools all received four star ratings in statewide ratings released Friday, August 16th, based on the first ratings calculated under the new system. Alaska’s new system is called Alaska School Performance Index.

Under ASPI, parents will receive reports yearly of their students’ performance on state reading, writing, and math assessments. The public will continue to have access to data about school wide and districtwide student performance.

The Seward schools were among 190 schools that received four-stars. Only 52 of the 503 Alaska schools rated received five stars for last year’s performance. Some 162 got three stars, 49 got two stars and 50 received one star. The star system is based on student proficiency tests in reading, writing and math skills conducted in April for students in grades K-8, as well as factors such as attendance and school progress. Schools with 12th grades also were graded for graduation rates and career readiness.

“I am pleased that the state’s new ASPI is an improved method of determining how well a school or district is meeting the educational needs of its students, said Kenai Peninsula Borough School Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater, who also cautioned the public from reading too much into these initial scores.

“The ASPI star rating should not however be viewed as the definitive quality descriptor for either a school or a district. This is illustrated by one of our schools that made five star academic gains but had only a two star attendance rating,” he said. The school’s three-star rating did not reflect the excellent academic gains the school had made, he said.

Seward El students enjoy their assembly events last spring. Heidi Zemach file photo

Seward El students enjoy racing Mars rovers they’d built during an assembly last spring. Heidi Zemach file photo

Schools with one to three-stars will be required to implement improvement plans, as will three and four-star schools under certain conditions such as a decline in the graduation rate in the previous year.



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The “Annual Measurable Objectives,” or goals of ASPI, apply to the students in each grade as a whole, and to “subgroups” of at least five students who are either economically disadvantaged, disabled, have limited English proficiency, are Alaska Natives or are members of other ethnic groups. The goal for each school is to decrease the percentage of “non-proficient” students in each of the academic areas by half in yearly increments over the next six years.

How Seward schools fared:

William S. Seward Elementary received a total ASPI score of 90.39. All 161 students enrolled were tested. In years K-8, 86 percent of students were deemed proficient or advanced in Reading; 88 percent in Writing, and 86 percent in Math. The school attendance rate was 91 percent. There was a 100 percent growth in all of the subgroups except for those with disabilities, whose growth was 97 percent.

Seward Middle School received a total ASPI score of 86.21. Of the 87 students enrolled, 86 were tested, giving a participation rate of 99 percent.  Some 85 percent of students in 7-8 grade were proficient or advanced in Reading, 72 percent in Writing and 63 percent in Mathematics.  For all subgroups, there was 94 percent combined growth, but 81 percent growth among the Alaska Native subgroup, and 89 percent among the economically disadvantaged subgroup, and 92 percent growth for the students with disabilities. The school’s attendance rate was 95.6 percent.

Seward High School received an ASPI score of 87.  Its attendance rate was 92.5 percent. Its four-year graduation rate is almost 87 percent, and five-year graduation rate is 80 percent.  Seventy-three percent of seniors were deemed career or college-ready.

In academic tests, 86 percent were proficient or advanced in Reading; 84 percent in Writing, and 81 percent in Mathematics. The subgroup’s growth rate was 99 percent. Alaska Native subgroup’s growth was 87 percent and the economically disadvantaged subgroup grew by 85 percent.

In grades K-8, academic achievement accounts for 35 percent of the 100-point scale, school progress accounts for 40 percent, and the attendance rate accounts for 24 percent. For grades 9-12,  academic achievement is just 20 percent of the total. School Progress is 40 percent, Attendance is 10 percent, the graduation rate is 20 percent, College and Career Readiness (testing in SAT and ACT) is eight percent, and WorkKeys test participation is two percent.

SCN reporter Heidi Zemach can be reached at hzemach@gmail.com

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