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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Reading scores offer hope

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawai'i public school students remain among the least proficient readers in the country, although test scores are improving and indicate the state is making some progress in closing that achievement gap, according to a national report released yesterday.

On the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered one of the most authoritative tests for reading proficiency nationwide, Hawai'i fourth- and eighth-grade students scored below national averages and behind students in most other states.

But Hawai'i is among 16 states whose fourth-grade reading test scores have improved since 1998 and among eight states whose eighth-grade reading scores improved since 1998.

"We are lower than average but creeping up faster than they are," said Jim Shon, associate director of the Hawai'i Educational Policy Center at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

Hawai'i fourth-graders had an average score of 208 on a 500-point scale, compared with a 217 national average and the state's 1998 score of 200.

Hawai'i eighth-graders had an average score of 252 on the 500-point scale, compared with a national average of 263 and 1998 Hawai'i score of 249.

Although most states again outperformed Hawai'i, public school officials are touting the scores as a significant gain over 1998, when students taking the test scored record lows.

In the fourth grade, Hawai'i's eight-point gain was twice as much as the four-point gain in the national average, school officials noted. While the three-point gain by the state's eighth-graders was not as impressive, it was also greater than the national gain of two points, school officials said.

Schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto called the scores a "move in the right direction."

"This encouraging improvement in reading scores, especially by our fourth-graders, affirms that standards-based learning and our ongoing emphasis on literacy are beginning to produce positive results," Hamamoto said.

Officials with the National Assessment Governing Board, the group that sets policy for NAEP, also noted that Hawai'i did particularly well in closing the achievement gap between low- and regular-income students in the fourth grade.

Low-income fourth-graders made an 11-point score increase, which officials characterized as a large, statistically significant gain, while non-low-income students made a six-point gain.

Overall, Hawai'i fourth-graders scored higher than or statistically equivalent to 10 of the 47 other states and jurisdictions taking the test.

The test placed Hawai'i eighth-graders higher than or statistically equivalent to eight of the other 46 states and jurisdictions tested.

NAEP, often called the Nation's Report Card, is the only federally financed ongoing assessment of student reading achievement on a national scale.

Nationally, fourth-graders in 2002 showed significant reading gains compared with 1998. It is those younger students who are at the center of a national push to improve basic education.

But eighth-graders showed no reading improvement over the four-year period, and 12th-graders showed declines at every level, from basic to advanced readers.

Although NAEP tests high-school seniors, it does so only to find a national average. No state-by-state data is released for the 12th grade.

Overall, less than a third of fourth-graders (31 percent) and eighth-graders (33 percent) showed they could understand and analyze challenging material. That skill level, defined as proficient, is the focal point of the test. Among high-school seniors, 36 percent hit that mark, down from 40 percent in 1998.

While Hawai'i students are slowly closing the gap between their performance and the rest of the nation's, improvement is happening much faster among fourth-graders than eighth-graders.

On the test, 21 percent of Hawai'i fourth-grade students scored either proficient or advanced on the reading test, compared with 17 percent in 1998.

Of the eighth-graders, 20 percent scored proficient or advanced on reading, compared with 18 percent in 1998.

Massachusetts was the highest scoring state in fourth-grade reading, with 47 percent of its students at the proficient or advanced level.

Department of Defense domestic schools and Vermont had the highest eighth-grade reading scores, with 40 percent of those students scoring at least at the proficient level.

Selvin Chin-Chance, testing specialist at the state Department of Education, encouraged parents and teachers to look at the sample questions on the NAEP Web site, www.nces.ed.gov/nationsreport card/, and have children — or adults — try to answer some of the questions and see the testing format.

"Like most others we're hoping that this was not just a momentary gain and that it will be sustained," Chin-Chance said.

The reading assessment was conducted in spring 2002.

Results from the 2002 writing assessments should be released in July, NAEP officials said.

State-by-state results from the 2003 reading and math tests, taken by students recently, are expected in late September or early October.

Staff writer Allison Schaefers contributed to this report. Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.

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