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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Change needed in our schools

By state Rep. Galen Fox
R-21st (Waikiki, Ala Moana)

Your Aug. 29 editorial about Hawai'i public school students' low SAT scores admonishes politicians not to "politicize" the issue or to engage in "demagoguery." We don't have to "demagogue" the issue to make the point that SAT scores for Hawai'i public school students continue to show our state school system is broken.

Education is about being measured. We are graded in school, we are tested to enter college, and we can't graduate without being measured. Why are we so afraid of being measured in Hawai'i?

The basic fact your editorial missed is that Hawai'i public school students have the lowest SAT scores for any state in the nation. Hawai'i is dead last.

In your effort to slide by the facts, you speak of "so many variables" that lead to our rock-bottom SAT scores. And you warn that because of "so many variables," it would be "irresponsible" to draw "black-and-white conclusions."

In fact, you mention only two variables. One is the "higher participation rate than the national average," which you correctly point out leads to slightly lower scores.

Let's look at the facts. Of the 50 states, Hawai'i's participation rate of 53 percent for high school seniors ranked 21st, placing us slightly above the national mean. Since Hawai'i public school seniors ranked last among 50 states, our ranking puts us below all 20 states with higher participation rates than Hawai'i. These 20 states with higher participation rates, seven with participation rates over 70 percent, or much higher than Hawai'i's 53 percent, would normally be expected to have scores lower than Hawai'i's, not higher.

The other "variable" you mention is "the population mix of our schools." You state, correctly, that Hawai'i is high on the list of states with a significant student percentage from immigrant families. In fact, we have the nation's fourth-highest percentage of foreign-born people.

But please note: The three states with a larger share of immigrants in their populations — Florida, New York and California — all have public school seniors scoring higher on the SATs than Hawai'i's, even though their proportion of immigrant test takers would be higher than Hawai'i's, not lower.

The Hawai'i public school system is broken. We need change and we need change now. No more excuses.