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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Yearly reading, math tests get mixed local reaction

House backs plan requiring annual reading, math tests

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Congressional legislation that would require public schools to conduct standardized testing and increase the federal government's role in public education received mixed reactions in Hawai'i yesterday.

The U.S. House yesterday approved a measure that would require students from the third to eighth grade to take math and reading tests each year. Students in schools that do not show an improvement in test scores would be allowed to transfer to a better school, while schools that are considered "failing" for five years would risk losing federal money.

The measure was sent to the Senate, which is expected to approve the measure next week. If signed by President Bush as expected, the law would go into effect in autumn of 2005.

Hawai'i's superintendent of education, Pat Hamamoto, said she generally is in support of the measure because it's in line with what the state Department of Education is doing. The department recently overhauled the school system by revising education standards, introducing a Hawai'i-based test and developing ways to hold schools accountable for student progress.

The state DOE tests students in Grades 3, 5, 8 and 10.

"As we were talking about our benchmark years for assessment, we were also discussing the in-between years, so we were going down the same path in the state of Hawai'i anyway," Hamamoto said. "So this just complements what we have in the works for our assessment of students."

Hamamoto said many schools have some form of annual assessment of student progress. She said being able to compare progress of students here with those on a national level also will be beneficial to the local school system.

"What this will do is help us validate where we are as a school, as a system, and more importantly whether the student is achieving the standards every year," Hamamoto said.

But there is concern among education officials that schools will place too much emphasis on passing the standardized tests in math and reading at the expense of other subjects. With the federal government providing more than 17 percent of the DOE's annual $1.2 billion budget, school officials don't want to risk losing any money.

"The thing about testing and tying it to federal funds — it raises the whole assessment picture to what is referred to as 'high-stakes testing,' " said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. "There are some people who feel that testing is useful, but it should not be so central that it drives the system."

Board of Education chairman Herbert Watanabe said he had not seen the legislation and could not comment on its specifics. But he did object to the federal government's getting involved in what he said is traditionally a state function.

"Here again, it's the federal people telling us what to do and what we've got to do in order to get money," Watanabe said. "It's like putting money over our heads and telling us, 'You get this if you do it our way.' "

As for allowing parents to remove their children from a "failing" school, Hamamoto said she's not sure she can support that part of the bill.

"We want every school to succeed and every child to stay at their home school," she said. "So we would have to take a good look at what is it that the bill really addresses because we expect all the schools to deliver quality instruction."