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Statewide testing data helps Unalaska schools find learning gaps following COVID-19 pandemic

Courtesy of Hannah Vowell

The Unalaska City School District has performed near the top of the state in testing again this year, according to Superintendent Jim Wilson.

When compared to the rest of Alaska’s public schools, Wilson said the district ranked fifth based on new statewide data from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s yearly Report Card to the Public. It’s an assessment of things like graduation rates, testing scores and teacher quality in the state’s public schools.

Wilson said the district has a lot to feel good about with these results.

“We have a 100% graduation rate,” Wilson said. “That is absolutely astonishing in the state of Alaska, a number to be very, very proud of.”

Still, Wilson told Unalaska School Board members on Wednesday that the most recent data wasn’t quite what he was hoping for. Only about 37% of students were considered proficient or better in English Language Arts by this year’s results. Compared to previous years, that’s down almost 20%. Unalaska students also performed lower in math. Although, it is difficult to compare this year’s report card to previous years’ because testing has changed.

“It seems as though the results were, I guess just to be honest, a little bit different than what we're used to statewide — different from what we expected,” he said. “And the numbers perhaps seemed a little lower.”

But that’s a statewide concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Most districts wish their results were higher, according to Wilson. This report card is based on data from 2021 to 2022, when schools first started transitioning from remote learning back to in-person classes.

It also includes new testing. It was the first year that the state used a new assessment, the Alaska System of Academic Readiness or AK STAR, which is supposed to better reflect individual growth throughout the year.

“I think everybody’s expecting those numbers to go up as teachers and students become more familiar with the components of the test,” Wilson said.

While results may be lower than anticipated, he said this report card is a great opportunity for teachers and administrators to find areas for improvement, specifically, places where students might need extra help coming out of the pandemic.

“What sticks out for me is that COVID affected different subgroups differently,” Wilson added. “In this community, we had UniSea on lockdown for three, four, five, six months, when those kids were not allowed to come to school, per UniSea policy. That's a high percentage of our ELL population.”

Now, with these results, Wilson said teachers are identifying learning gaps and starting to take effective action to help bridge those.

“It was a new test last year and we are working hard to be able to dissect the testing data to be able to help all students to improve in their learning goals,” he said. “We have areas to address and hope to see improvement moving forward.”

The Unalaska school district’s results are available to the public on the Alaska DEED website.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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