An AMP flyer posted at Haines School. (Emily Files)

An AMP flyer posted at Haines School in 2015. (Emily Files)

The Alaska Department of Education has canceled state standardized testing because of problems connecting to an online server in Kansas. Tens of thousands of students across the state were scheduled to take the Alaska Measures of Progress, or AMP, exams. Superintendents in the Haines and Skagway school districts say calling off the tests was the right thing to do.

Haines Interim Superintendent Rich Carlson says a state completely canceling its annual standardized testing is unprecedented.

“I’ve been [working in education] for about 43 years, I have never experienced before nor have I ever heard of it before.”

But Carlson thinks it was the best option given the circumstances. Last week, a construction worker severed a fiber optic cable at the University of Kansas, where the Alaska’s testing vendor, the Achievement and Assessment Institute, is housed.

That disrupted testing for students across the state, including those in Haines. Carlson found out Friday afternoon that the state was calling off the exams.

“I was thrilled, I really was. I think it was gutsy call on the part of the commissioner but it was the only right call.”

Carlson says it would have been a shame for students and school districts to be ‘sized up’ based on tests that were interrupted by technical glitches. In a press release, Interim Education Commissioner Susan McCauley says that’s the central reason for canceling the tests. She says the disruptions rendered the exam results invalid.

“After reading the rationale from Dr. McCauley, I think it was a tough decision, but I think it was the right decision,” said Skagway Superintendent Josh Coughran. “I think the concerns over validity were paramount.”

Skagway students hadn’t started taking the AMP exams yet — they were scheduled for later this month. Coughran says it’s a relief they won’t have to deal with the technical glitches. But it is disappointing that the school district won’t have that data to compare to last year’s results, which was the first year for the AMP tests in Alaska.

“It isn’t as if we are moving blind, but it would certainly have been nicer to have that data, especially two years in a row from the AMP assessment,” Coughran said.

But Carlson doesn’t think the second year of AMP data would’ve been helpful anyway.

“The AMP in general was not designed to help teachers drive instruction,” Carlson said. “It’s only disappointing that we put so much time, so much effort and so many resources into it, but not necessarily that we’re not gonna get some great results that we really need.”

Both Haines and Skagway have other standardized test data to rely on – the MAP tests, or Measures of Academic Progress. Coughran describes them as math and English tests that grades K-12 take multiple times per year to measure academic growth. The MAP tests are voluntary – not all school districts participate in them.

“From there, teachers are able to tap into a wealth of data that’s provided through [the testing vendor], as far as instructional resources, as far as knowing exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of each student are.”

Some Alaska superintendents have advocated for Alaska replacing the AMP with MAP. The Education Department will be issuing a request for proposals for a new statewide exam system to be implemented in spring of 2017.

But even though there will be a new test next year, Carlson worries the failures of the AMP exams will hurt the long-term credibility of standardized testing in Alaska, causing more parents to opt their children out of the tests altogether.