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Alaska Picks New State Superintendent Who Faces Immediate Challenges

Alaska's state board of education last week hired Michael Johnson, the superintendent of Copper River School District  to serve as the state's next education commissioner, according to the Associated Press. 

Former commissioner Mike Hanley abruptly resigned in February after several problems with the rollout of the state's standardized test. In subsequent interviews, Hanley and board members attributed his resignation to a disagreement over priorities. 

Johnson, who previously served as the president of the state's superintendents association, has a difficult task ahead of him. The state is in the process of drafting a waiver request from the U.S. Department of Education to escape federal penalties for cancelling its statewide assessment after widespread technical problems.  

Independent Gov. Bill Walker is currently debating whether to sign legislation that would prohibit the state education department from administering a standardized test until 2020. If a state does not administer annual statewide exams in math and English/language arts for students in grades 3-8 and once in high school, it risks losing millions of dollars in federal aid—those tests, along with less-frequent science tests, are required under the Every Student Succeeds Act.   

The department has laid off more than a third of its staff in recent years amid dramatic budget cuts after the state's oil revenue dipped. It's in the process of creating a new accountability system that would comply with ESSA, which replaced and updated the No Child Left Behind Act Act.  

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