Alaska Policy Analysis January 2015
Analyst: Salisbury, Margaret
Alaska Education and Early Development has amended 4 AAC 06.065 Challenging courses. The initial intent by the legislature is to offer students opportunities to demonstrate mastery of course material through a district created assessment, wherein students could then take more advanced, rigorous or interesting course work. The intent is not to offer an alternate assessment for credit recovery. Clearly the intent was to offer future opportunities for advanced learning. Proposals to add language that would have allowed students to challenge courses below their current grade or course level was not adopted.
Currently each district within the state must provide by July 1, 2015 an opportunity for secondary students to challenge courses in mathematics, language arts, science, social
studies, and world languages. The district must offer two opportunities annually. Each district is to develop standards regarding the mastery, include a written assessment, as well as provide a written process regarding the grading or evaluation of successfully challenged courses. The district may charge a fee to cover the costs of development and administration of the assessment. Students who are successful in demonstrating mastery will receive full credit for the course. (Register 212, January 2105 Education and Early Development 1 4 AAC 06.065)
The legislature is not funding any of the districts’ costs to develop these assessments. The statute itself offers no guidelines or requirements other than what is currently stated. As districts gear up for new testing and teacher evaluations, this becomes another “challenge” for school districts across the state to meet compliance. Unlike the new assessments and evaluation criteria, the EED is not offering districts any support in developing a process or guidelines of what a mastery assessment might look like. Currently three districts within the state have a process in place for challenged courses. None of them are alike; some are quite detailed; whereas others are brief. Under the new state requirement, all of them will change.
For any content area, educators would hopefully expect an assessment that truly tests mastery aside from regular seat time, class instruction, and traditional content..Because of the expectations of the Alaska Performance Scholarships, no transcript course listed as a pass/fail may be included in the worksheet required for graduation and eligibility for the scholarships. This may be one consideration as districts construct their processes to ensure that students continue to pursue more challenging opportunities. Pressure on school districts from both school boards and the state legislature to promote higher graduation rates might eschew the original intent of this legislation. As districts struggle with credit recovery, this too might become a means to satisfy and increase graduation rates.