State told to stick with 'rigorous test'
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer
By Treena Shapiro
An educational nonprofit hired to analyze Hawai'i's academic standards has recommended that the state maintain or increase the rigor of its state assessment, despite the difficulty students already have in meeting the benchmarks.
The study was requested after another round of disappointing test scores prompted lawmakers to question whether the Hawai'i State Assessment was asking too much from students.
Last year, only 42.3 percent of the state's 10th-graders met the standards in reading and only 19.6 percent met the standards in math, even though the study indicates that the students are tested on material generally taught at the eighth-grade level internationally.
Matthew Gandal, vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Achieve Inc., warned Board of Education members and state lawmakers against making the test easier, despite the state's poor showing compared to states with less-demanding assessments.
"It's a rigorous test, no doubt about it, but it's an appropriately rigorous test to get (students) on the track to success," he told lawmakers.
Success means going on to post-secondary education, Gandal said. Hawai'i trails the national average by 6 percentage points, with only 12 percent of ninth-graders going on to graduate from college on time.
The study's recommendations include making an exit exam mandatory for graduation, requiring high school students to take rigorous courses in line with what colleges and employers expect and adopting strategies to better prepare students for the spring assessment.
According to Gandal, colleges and prospective employers expect their applicants to have similar skill sets, but Hawai'i's assessment, as well as the assessments of six other states Achieve looked at, do not have high enough expectations.
In the 10th grade, students are being tested on skills taught to seventh- and eighth-graders, Gandal said. However, this is a nationwide problem, and Hawai'i's tests were more challenging than five of the six other states that Achieve has analyzed.
House Education chairman Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Palisades), said he found the data compelling, but it will be up to the Board of Education whether to adopt such recommendations as requiring an exit exam or certain courses of graduating seniors.
The study validates Takumi's belief that schools should continue to keep the bar high.
"I think having high standards is important. I do not believe that lowering our standards will accomplish anything," Takumi said.
Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said Gandal's presentation upheld what the school system is already trying to accomplish.
"We need to maintain the high standards and continue to work toward getting more kids to achieve them," he said.
The state is working toward streamlining its standards and better targeting its grade-level assessments, which educators say could lead to improved scores without "dumbing down" the test.
Reach Treena Shapiro at email@example.com.