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Rural Alaska Superintendent Chosen as State's New Education Commissioner

A superintendent from the rural Copper River School District in Alaska has been selected to oversee the state's education department in the wake of the former commissioner's resignation, according to the Associated Press.

As part of his new role, which begins July 1, Michael Johnson will lead the development of a new standardized test for the state after officials decided earlier this year to ditch Alaska's current assessment. In February, Mike Hanley resigned as education commissioner after receiving criticism for the rollout of the state exam. After the online system crashed multiple times this spring, the state's interim commissioner canceled testing and said the exams would have been too difficult to reschedule due to how remote many schools are in Alaska.

Johnson's rural education experience could be helpful in his new position. Nearly two-thirds of schools in Alaska are rural and they serve about 28 percent of the state's students. Alaska has one of the nation's highest percentages of rural English-language learners and rural minority students. The state's rural schools face severe teacher shortages and difficulties with education technology, as well as other challenges that have been discussed by Alaska's legislature this year while considering such education reforms like increasing teacher pay and closing schools.

In addition to working on the new assessment, Johnson will also oversee the state's implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and will seek a waiver from the federal government for the state's canceled exams. 

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