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Alaska Reads Act results are in: most students in LKSD need additional reading support

Lower Kuskokwim School District offices located in Bethel, Alaska.
Gabby Salgado
Lower Kuskokwim School District offices located in Bethel, Alaska.

At the beginning of the school year, districts throughout the state took part in the statewide rollout of the Alaska Reads Act. It’s a mandate that took effect in July 2023 with the aim of getting all students reading at grade level by the end of the third grade. The results are in after students in the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) took their first literacy screener, and school staff say that most students need additional reading support.

The Alaska Reads Act literacy screener tested all kindergarten through third-grade students across the state to assess their proficiency in phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

One-thousand one-hundred students in LKSD completed the test. Some students at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, the Yup’ik immersion school, didn’t take the test because they’re instructed in Yugtun until third grade.

Despite issues accessing the internet across the region this fall after the Quintillion fiber-optic cable break, LKSD Superintendent Kimberly Hankins said that implementing the first Alaska Reads Act screening was a success.

"Whenever we have an assessment that is dependent on internet, we hope for the best," said Hankins. "And really it went pretty smoothly overall, given that we can struggle with our internet. So, tech glitches aside, it was pretty successful."

Around the state, districts are getting the hang of the new online testing system. Teachers were trained this summer and in early fall on how to administer the test, and the Alaska Department of Education extended the testing deadline twice to allow districts more time to complete specific components of the screening.

"And that was really based, to my knowledge, on feedback they were receiving from around the state on how it was going, kind of statewide. And in getting that assessment screening complete," Hankins said.

The district had a wide range of scores, but most students will need additional targeted support.

"To be frank, we weren't really surprised by the data. We've known that students in our region can enter school with a more limited vocabulary and a slower rate of verbal communication in comparison to national standards," said Hankins.

The next step is to implement a mandated district reading intervention, which means schools have to offer more support to help students achieve reading proficiency in their grade levels. There are three tracks with different levels of support. All students will continue to receive reading instruction during class, which is considered Tier 1. Tier 2 and Tier 3 will have additional support.

"For some other students, that means they'll receive 30 minutes of additional specialized support. That Tier 2 intervention or extra assistance that's really targeted at their specific skill gaps," explained Hankins. "And then for some additional students, it also includes 30 minutes at the end of the school day or after school, with support in small groups. We're aiming for five or less, working again on those specific skills."

Hankins said that no matter how students score, their needs will be addressed on an individual basis.

"So I want to set the record straight. The [Alaska] Reads Act legislation does not mandate that students be retained at any grade level. The choice to retain or promote a student at the end of the school year has always been and will continue to be a really carefully thought through decision made by teachers and parents working together."

Hankins said that the district has spent a lot of time focusing on planning for implementing the new curriculum. They also spent the spring training teachers by getting them the right materials and professional development training on the fundamentals of how kids learn to read.

"Instructional practices that really aim to promote growth and rigorous communication in our students, because we know that this in turn promotes growth in literacy skills as well," Hankins said.

The district is also working on building a Yugtun literacy program to teach and test students in Yup’ik in a way that fits the language.

The Lower Yukon School District also struggles with low reading proficiency. But Mountain Village School reading teacher Amanda Queenie said that she’s found that the school community has embraced the challenge.

"As we all know, there have been kids in the past who’ve kind of fallen through the cracks and got into middle school or high school. And they're not, you know, they're not reading the way they should be. And this law is there to help make sure that doesn't happen. And it was nice to see, of the parents I spoke with, like, no one seemed frustrated or upset."

Queenie said that she appreciates the increased communication with parents.

"One of my rules in my classroom comes from ‘The Little Engine That Could’ book, and we always tell each other 'I think I can, I think I can.' You know, first graders when they're doing hard stuff,” said Queenie. "But sometimes we as adults need to tell ourselves that too, and it'll be okay. Like, I think it's gonna be kind of, it's got a lot of challenges. And as with anything that's brand new, there's stuff we don't necessarily understand or know how to do yet, but I'm really looking forward to what the actual outcome is."

Students throughout the state will take a second literacy screener in January 2024 to assess their progress.

Corrected: November 20, 2023 at 2:34 PM AKST
The photo has been changed to more accurately represent the school district.
Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.
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