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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 25, 2010

Test shows 4th-graders falling further behind

Advertiser Staff

Hawai'i's fourth-graders slipped further behind their national peers in reading, while the state's eighth-graders for the second straight time showed substantial gains in the core subject area, according to 2009 results from the National Assesment for Educational Progress.

While the state's eighth-graders continue to lag behind their national counterparts in reading achievement, they have been progressing at a much faster pace than the rest of the country over the past five years.

Their results on the most recent test represent their best showing ever, education officials said.

But education officials say they are concerned about the lack of progress by Hawai'i's fourth-graders and they hope federal education reform efforts will help boost reading achievement among the state's young readers.

"What it tells us is that there are kids who are lacking and we need to work with the school to target those students. It's about how can we give them additional help right now," said Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and student support for the state Department of Education.

NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card, is a congressionally mandated battery of tests of core subject areas including math, science, writing and reading. The last time the NAEP reading test was administered was in 2007.

The NAEP is considered one of the few national standardized tests that can be compared across state lines. The results announced yesterday are from the test that was administered between January and March 2009 to a representative sample of Hawai'i's fourth- and eighth-graders.

On the NAEP, 57 percent of Hawai'i's fourth-grade students tested at or above basic level, which is comparable to "proficient" on the state's own standardized Hawai'i State Assessment exam. Nationwide, 66 percent of fourth-graders were at or above basic level.

For Hawai'i's eighth-graders, 67 were at or above basic, compared to the nationwide total of 74 percent at or above basic. However, Hawai'i was also the only state to report significant gains from 2005 to 2007 and from 2007 to 2009 in eighth-grade reading.

Education officials say they will be working with schools to identify why fourth-graders appear to be lagging and implement changes to literacy instruction and intervention.

"The amount that they went down in Hawai'i was not significant but it is certainly not the direction that we want," said Robert Hillier, NAEP coordinator for the state Department of Education. "From 1998 through 2007 we had narrowed a pretty severe gap with the nation from about 13 points to just a little over 6 points. So this was a little of a fallback."

In 1998, Hawai'i fourth-graders had an average score of 200 in reading compared to 213 nationally. Hawai'i's score improved in 2007 to 213 compared to 220 nationally.

"The eighth-grade scores were very gratifying," Hillier said. "We made nice gains in 2007, but it was like a rebound to where we had been in 2003. ... (T)his time is clearly the best performance of our eighth-graders ever."

In 1998, Hawai'i had an eighth-grade average score of 249 compared with 261 nationally. Since then the Hawai'i score has increased to 255 compared with 262 nationally.

Officials says strategies will need to be developed to help increase achievement in reading.

This school year, Hawai'i is using some $7 million set aside from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to establish "extended learning opportunities" for students who need the most help. The money is making its way down to the school level where principals and teachers are identifying students falling behind in the core subject areas. The students are receiving extra assistance through tutoring and one-on-one learning with their teachers after school, during winter and spring breaks and into the summer.

"This is not summer school. It's targeted instruction," Hamada said.

The school system has also been analyzing data from the school districts across the state in order to target groups of teachers and schools with professional development help.

Q & A

What is it? The National Assessment for Educational Progress is a national standardized test administered by the U.S. Department of Education to measure progress in fourth- and eighth-grade math, science, writing and reading. Only reading results were announced yesterday.

Who takes it? Unlike the Hawai'i State Assessment, which tests grades three to eight and 10th-graders, the NAEP tests only fourth and eighth grade. Also unlike the HSA, only a representative sample of students is tested, about 3,000 students per grade level.

Is it comparable from state to state? While the test is comparable across state lines, states can skew their results by increasing or decreasing the "exclusion rates," or the amount of students who are disallowed from taking the exam. Hawai'i had a 2 percent exclusion rate, usually students who have been in the state for less than a year. Other states had much higher exclusion rates. For example, Tennessee excluded 9 percent and Maryland excluded 11 percent.

How did Hawai'i's scores compare to other states? In fourth grade, Hawai'i's average score (211) was higher than or statistically equivalent to just eight of the 52 states and jurisdictions. Hawai'i was higher only than the District of Columbia, and equivalent to Arizona, Alaska, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico.

In eighth grade, Hawai'i's average scale score (255) was higher than or statistically equivalent to just 10 of the 52 states and jurisdictions tested. Hawai'i was higher only than the District of Columbia and Mississippi, and equivalent to Alabama, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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