School test scores inadequate, again
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Middle-schoolers are doing better in math, but not good enough to keep 187 of the state's 282 public schools from falling short on the Hawai'i State Assessment for the second year in a row.
The previous year's results on the statewide school exam were the worst since the state began administering the test in 2002, and education officials had expected a rebound this year since the test and thresholds remained the same.
However, while there was some movement at individual schools, the overall preliminary results released yesterday by the Department of Education remained flat, with 66 percent again failing to meet state goals or achieve "adequate yearly progress" as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Overall, students improved in math and stayed virtually the same in reading. Still, of the students tested, fewer than three out of 10 demonstrated proficiency in math, and less than half showed proficiency in reading.
On the statewide school assessment exam taken last spring by 95,000 public school students, only eight schools were able to lift themselves from sanctions under No Child Left Behind. That means that 62 percent of the public schools now face some degree of penalty under No Child Left Behind, which has become the driving force to improve student achievement nationwide.
Ten more schools have been added to the list of those facing the toughest penalty of all, "restructuring" or takeover by the state. Only one school — Jarrett Middle — pulled itself from that restructuring list, which now stands at 50.
State superintendent Patricia Hamamoto called the latest assessments only one measure of the learning that goes on in the public schools, and praised the growth in proficiency levels since the state began testing in 2002.
"Through one set of lenses you look at NCLB and the outside imposition of a score and a rating, which is unfortunate," she said. "It doesn't look at the real story on the education that's going on for the kids. It's going up and that's what counts. We're making progress.
"If you're talking about deep learning to benefit you with skills as an adult, you cannot rush that kind of learning. ... What we've been looking at is ensuring there is steady growth."
School board vice chairwoman Karen Knudsen expressed concern with the way the federal law is being pushed forward, calling it a flawed and arbitrary system of "planned failure" for all schools in the country.
"I'm so surprised we blindly as a nation walk forward toward this," Knudsen said, "knowing that ultimately all our schools will fail."
Herbert Watanabe, second vice chairman, agreed. "If one segment fails (within a school) the entire school fails," he said.
And board member Mary Cochran pointed out that Hawai'i is one of the five or six states with the toughest standards.
While student performance has improved since Hawai'i began giving the test, a report by Education Week said Hawai'i is among 25 states that have lost ground in the past year in the drive to make all students proficient in core subjects by 2014.
The percentage of students proficient in math from all the grades tested improved, going from 19 percent in 2003, to 23.7 percent a year ago to 27 percent this year.
At the same time the percentage of students proficient in reading was slightly higher at 47 percent compared with 46.9 percent a year ago. But both are up from the 39.2 percent who were proficient in 2003.
"We're looking at a number, but you have to break it down," Hamamoto said in analyzing how each school did. "If they missed by one or two points, you've got to look at where they were last year and how much progress they've made. ... But what's going on in the schools is much more important than a number. Student achievement is more than what's been recorded for NCLB."
While sanctions and restructuring carry a stigma for the school, and increase costs for the state, what it means for students could be extra attention, more resources and improved teaching.
SOME GOOD NEWS
Last year the state put an extra $7.9 million into contracts with three education companies to help bring improvements at two dozen of the schools struggling the most. Four of those schools — all working with Edison Schools Inc. — improved enough to make adequate yearly progress
There was other good news yesterday: Every school from Hawai'i Kai to Kahala — and some in Kaimuki — made the grade.
Eight schools statewide were able to escape sanctions this year after making their goals for two years in a row. Twenty-four schools made adequate yearly progress and will escape sanctions if they are able to do so again next year.
And though Neighbor Island schools struggled, with only 18 of 84 meeting standards, four schools on Maui achieved adequate yearly progress, up from two a year ago. And on Moloka'i one school made the grade, compared with none last year.
MORE HOPEFUL SIGNS
Despite some struggles on the Hawai'i test by fifth-graders — who saw a 12-percentage-point decline in reading — Hawai'i elementary school pupils in general did as well or better than their Mainland peers on the multiple-choice Stanford Achievement Test, which is included in the state assessment.
In the seventh grade and above, Hawai'i's students fell behind on the SAT. However, when it comes to No Child Left Behind, it's the overall Hawai'i State Assessment scores that count, not the SAT.
Robert McClelland, director of the Department of Education's Systems Accountability Office, admitted to "some disappointment" among the leadership, but he said the Hawai'i State Assessment results show some areas of "hope," while more still needs to be done.
Seventh- and eighth-graders, for example, saw 5 to 6 percentage-point gains in their math scores over last year, and 2 to 3 point increases in reading.
"When I think about those middle schools and historically how difficult it has been for them, and now to see such strides they're making in mathematics, it tells me there are good things taking place there and maybe they're actually challenging their kids more and having higher expectations of their kids," McClelland said.
He was especially proud of gains at Jarrett, a school he said exudes warmth and calm the minute you step onto its campus and where the principal greets every child by name and usually knows their families.
"They communicate to the kids that they believe in them," McClelland said. "There were a number of schools on the Wai'anae Coast like that last year that gave everyone hope."
He believes gains there came from the school's outreach to parents and the community, and the ability of its leaders and teachers to be flexible and think "outside the box" in making changes.
Jarrett principal Gerald Teramae was excited to hear that his teachers' hard work paid off for a second year. "Two years is a long time to stay committed to doing a job," he said.
Last year Jarrett achieved its goals alone. This year, the staff had assistance from Edison, which ended up being a tremendous asset, Teramae said. "It was the one component that pushed us over the hump."
Palolo Elementary, with 97 percent of its student body coming from low-income families, is another school that made adequate yearly progress.
"That's another school where you feel very good," McClelland said. "Both of those schools are very active outreachers. They talk to the parents. They get outside people to work with them. They're working closely with the community colleges. They're being open and flexible and bringing people in to help."
CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR
Other surprises abounded among the 19 schools in the Farrington-Kaiser Complex Area where almost every school made gains, even though not all made adequate yearly progress, according to complex area superintendent Ronn Nozoe.
"People look only at the surface," Nozoe said. "When you make big-time structural change, a lot of time you don't see results until three, four, five years later. This is four years into big-time structural change and we're starting to see the numbers move."
One of Nozoe's schools making huge gains was Kalihi Elementary, whose principal, Natalie Mun-Taketa, had dedicated the school's total efforts to hitting the guidelines. They did — for the first time. Mun-Taketa pulled out all the stops, introducing new reading programs, inviting parents onto campus to be involved with their children's reading, and bringing in consultants to work with teachers, among other efforts.
"Kalihi Elementary is a big victory," Nozoe said. "But now they're in here working on what they're going to do next to get better. Everybody has stuff to cheer about but also hard questions to ask each other when they get back to school."
Next year, students will take a test based on a revised set of standards adopted by the Board of Education.
The standards used for this year's test have been criticized as too difficult and too comprehensive, so the new standards have been streamlined and targeted at specific grade levels to help ensure that teachers understand exactly what their students are expected to know.
Hawai'i expects to apply next year to be allowed to consider a "growth model" under No Child Left Behind rules, which means schools would be measured not against an absolute standard, but against how much progress students have made from where they started.
Under current rules, Hawai'i has the most schools missing adequate yearly progress, and the most schools in varying degrees of corrective action, according to the Education Week study.