Hawaii officials tout online school testing
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Hawai'i public schools have begun testing a new online version of the state's annual assessment exam, which officials say will be a better gauge of student progress than the current paper-pencil test, once it is rolled out next school year.
The online version of the Hawai'i State Assessment is also being touted as a tool that will reduce the chance for errors in scoring, save money — potentially 40 percent from the present $10.1 million annual cost for the paper test — and give teachers immediate feedback on how their students are comprehending math, reading and science concepts.
Perhaps most beneficial for individual schools, students will be given three opportunities to take the exam over an eight-month period, with only the best of the three scores counting toward the school's measurement of progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
That change could help many schools see improvement in their quest to make "adequate yearly progress."
"Because the online testing provides immediate feedback to teachers, they will be able to look at their classroom results and make adjustments to their instruction," said Cara Tanimura, director of the state Department of Education's systems accountability office.
"Currently, by the time we have the scores for the HSA, it's summer — June or July. So the kids are gone by that time. Teachers cannot alter what they're doing because students are no longer in their classroom."
However, that expanded testing window — to eight months from three weeks now — and the ability for students to take the test up to three times, have given rise to worry about overtesting.
The last of the paper-pencil version of the HSA will be administered in April.
Field testing of the online version of the HSA began Feb. 16 and will last through May, with all schools eventually taking part, DOE officials said. A handful of schools have completed their testing.
The field test is not a complete exam, but instead involves only about 20 questions, and is meant to ensure that there are no glitches or inadequate technology at the schools, said Kent Hinton, DOE's head of student assessment.
A few schools have reported minor problems, including lack of available computers, infrastructure problems or glitches in the online testing tool. But Hinton said most schools so far have had little or no problems in administering the simulated online exam.
"Most of the issues can be overcome with some guidance in how to work with the system. Sometimes it's just about getting to know how the system works," Hinton said.
LACK OF COMPUTERS
The number of available computers on a school's campus is also of concern for some of the larger schools, Hinton said. Most schools have only a handful of computers in the classrooms. Most computers are in labs or the library. That means all students would need to filter through the labs or the library to complete their testing.
The DOE conducted a survey of schools to make sure there were sufficient computers to administer the online test. Only about seven schools had potential problems, Hinton said.
The expanded testing window will help schools cope with such issues. Instead of three weeks in April, the testing window will expand to nearly eight months, from October to May.
"On a paper-pencil test, all grades from 3 through 8 and 10 would have to take it in a three-week window. But now schools could test grade 6 in November, another grade at another time. It's not everyone sitting at a computer at one time," Hinton said.
The online test, developed for Hawai'i by testing contractor American Institutes for Research, will also allow students to save what they've completed during a classroom period and come back to their exam later.
Some school administrators have expressed concern about the online test being administered up to three times per student, Tanimura said.
"Some of the concern is that it would be overtesting. There is an impression that we are requiring all schools to administer the test to every student three times, and that's not the case," Tanimura said.
Instead, she said, the school has the option of providing the test up to three times if a student needs the opportunity. It's similar to students taking college entrance exams multiple times to get a better score, she said.
Nevertheless, with 66 percent of schools falling short of state benchmarks on the high-stakes test last year, there's plenty of incentive for administrators to encourage students to take the test a second or third time.
Even if a student takes the test again, he or she will not see the same test. The online version is "adaptive," meaning no single question will repeat itself for a student.
Administering the Hawai'i assessment online also will save the state money over time. Test booklets will not have to be shipped to Hawai'i and then back to the Mainland for scoring. Multiple test booklets for grade levels will not have to be developed each year.
The state now spends an estimated $10.1 million a year to develop and administer the assessment to 92,000 students. By the 2012-13 school year, the state DOE estimates that the cost will drop to about $6 million.
Because the online test will not require booklets and answer sheets to be hand- scored or machine-counted, it is likely to result in fewer scoring glitches, Tanimura said.
It also reduces the possibility of student mistakes.
"Sometimes kids would make stray marks, or they wouldn't bubble-in correctly. That messes up the scoring," Tanimura said. "Of course, nothing is foolproof. We'll have to watch to make sure the programming is accurate."