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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Hawai'i must not be boxed in by test plan

The historic education bill now making its way through Congress could mean big changes for Hawai'i's schools.

Whether those changes will do us any good, however, is far from settled.

As Education Writer Alice Keesing reported, some local officials are wary, if not downright skeptical, about a new national requirement for yearly testing in basic math and reading skills.

It is a version, writ large, of what George Bush successfully implemented as governor of Texas.

And the basic concept is hard to quibble with. If you insist on raising standards, you have to find some way of measuring whether schools (students, actually) are meeting those standards.

Hence: a test.

It is all part of that standards/accountability package that has been pressed so vigorously by our own school superintendent, Paul LeMahieu.

But it is far from simple. If all you end up with — in that familiar phrase — is "teaching to the test," then you really haven't done much for learning.

There are some critics who suggest that is what happened in Texas: It wasn't that education improved all that much; it is just that the schools and students got better at taking the test that was designed to measure improvement.

But simply raising standards and then taking someone's word for it that those standards have been reached won't cut it, either. The challenge for Hawai'i will be in ensuring that our testing measures progress against our own goals and true mastery of what we believe our children should be learning.

Standardized national tests would hardly fit that bill. Yes, there are minimal levels of achievement that any student anywhere should be expected to reach. But we do not want minimal achievement; we want each student to get to his or her highest potential.

That calls for testing that is sophisticated and tailored to individual needs and local expectations.

Perhaps most important, Hawai'i must stand firm on the proposition that these tests are a diagnostic tool, not a crude measuring stick used by Uncle Sam to decide which schools to reward and which to punish.