Exterior of Nome Elementary School, an off-white building with a smiling polar bear as its mascot.

The results of last year’s Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools or PEAKS Tests predominated Tuesday’s Nome Public School Board of Education meeting. Meghan Hayes presented on the data from last Spring’s test and she had news: The majority of Nome public school students tested below proficiency in both math and language arts. 

These results, are generally lower than in past years, according to Hayes. Average data is limited, however as Nome has only been using PEAKS for a few years.

At the district level, Hayes said only, 21% of grades 3-9 tested proficient and above for English Language arts. The proficiency rates for math were “about the same for proficient and above and below the state,” Hayes stated.

Hayes pointed out that this problem extends further than just the Nome School District.

Not only were our kids underperforming, the entire state (was),” Hayes said.

After this presentation, Hayes, the board, principals, and others attempted to identify and understand the reasons behind this trend. Due to the problem’s ubiquity “the reality is, we don’t know what this means,” Hayes stated. But she had several suggestions as to what may be going on.

She cited last year’s school closures, during the COVID-19 pandemic as a possible factor.

Instruction looked so different last year. It almost seemed like we should have given last year’s six graders the previous year’s test ‘cause you were giving kids a test in the sixth grade that maybe (they) hadn’t been able to fully get all of their coursework for sixth grade completed. It’s kind of like, you’re giving someone a test for material that hasn’t been presented yet,” Hayes said.

She also mentioned lack of school attendance as another contributing issue especially in the high school age range.

Hayes cautioned the board against making blanket conclusions about all students based on this data. Instead, she stated the test was best seen as a tool to draw conclusions about individual students’ performances.

Nome Elementary School principal, Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson, stressed that fixing the education gaps alluded to by the PEAKS test results will always be the focus and the priority of her and her team.

Regardless of designation or requirement, we want to be making progress towards all of our students achieving at higher levels,” Korenek-Johnson said.

In other news, the Nome School Board heard a presentation from Sikku, a program dedicated to providing opportunities for students to get outside and ski. The Board also heard an overview of Nome’s 2021’s summer school program, the first session of summer school held in a while. In her report, superintendent Jamie Burgess stated that Nome Public Schools received a grant for and are looking to hire their first school nurse in “quite some time”.

Of course, it’s great to have the funding. The challenge is actually finding an individual to fill that position,” Burgess said.

The Nome School Board unanimously approved its one action item: a partnership with Nactec and Northwest Campus so that Northwest Campus can hold adult classes in Nome Beltz Middle High School shop facilities and use Nome Beltz equipment.

Image at top: Nome Elementary School, the meeting place of the school board. Photo courtesy of David Dodman, KNOM (2018).