Stakes high as testing begins
When more than 90,000 public school students begin taking the Hawaii State Assessment this week, they will do so at a disadvantage: nearly three weeks of instructional time lost to teacher furloughs.
Coming off last year's scores — the worst showing since testing began in 2002 — educators are worried about how furloughs may affect test results.
Any decrease in scores is likely to be blamed on the amount of classroom time students have lost this year.
"These are the cards we've been dealt and we've done the best that we can," said Justin Mew, principal of Niu Valley Middle school. "We are hoping that it does not impact us that much."
Mew said the school has cut a lot of activities, field trips and assemblies to maximize instruction time. The school also rearranged its bell schedule in October when furloughs were instituted on Fridays.
The assessment measures whether public schools are making adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, and failure to reach goals can result in sanctions and stigma for the school, as well as increased costs for the state if outside help must be brought in.
Students will take the eight-hour exam spread out over a month-long testing window that ends April 23. Unlike previous years when only math and reading portions of the exam were administered in the spring, select grade levels will also take a two-session science portion along with the core subjects this year.
Testing officially begins tomorrow, but most schools are not expected to start administering the exam until Tuesday or Wednesday, state Department of Education officials said.
"It used to be that we would test science in the fall. But we received a lot of input from the schools that they didn't want two separate testing windows," said Cara Tanimura, the head of DOE's system planning and improvement section.
ONLINE NEXT YEAR
This is also the last year of paper-pencil testing; next year the state will begin administering the exam online.
For a school to reach its goals on the Hawaii State Assessment this year, or make what is commonly referred to as "AYP" (adequate yearly progress) on the high-stakes test, 58 percent of students must demonstrate proficiency in reading and 46 percent must be proficient in math. Science does not count toward AYP goals.
Every few years schools face increasing benchmarks, or goals. They will increase substantially next year.
Last year, only 34 percent of schools — or 97 campuses — made AYP, compared with 42 percent from the year before. That means a total of 187 schools — or 66 percent — missed the benchmarks required to prevent them from potentially slipping further into sanctions under NCLB. It's the largest number of schools to miss their targets since testing began in 2002.
Grades three, four, five, six, seven, eight and 10 take the Hawaii State Assessment. Only fourth, sixth and 10th grade take the science test.
Momilani Elementary School principal Doreen Higa said her teachers focus on staying ahead in instruction so that all grade-level concepts are covered before testing begins.
"Testing is done at the beginning of fourth quarter and it does cover material that is covered in that quarter. I felt if we weren't ahead, children will be tested on things that we haven't taught them," Higa said.
For instance, for a third-grade class at Momilani Elementary, students begin learning fourth-grade material in the fourth quarter of the year.
Higa also said the school is reminding parents to send their children to school well-fed and rested, ready to tackle the exam.
The HSA has three sections of math and three sections of reading. For students taking science, there are two sections. Each section is about 60 minutes, and is usually administered in a class period.
Officials say schools spread the exam out over the 3 1/4 week testing window.
"They don't overburden the kids," Tanimura said. "It normally takes a little over a week to test."
Last year, education officials say the large number of schools that did not meet their goals reflected what they believed to be the flawed NCLB expectations. The law requires schools to show increasing progress toward 100 percent of students proficient in core subjects by 2014.
Officials point to across-the-board increases in statewide test scores as evidence that students are indeed succeeding.
About 65 percent of public school students were proficient in reading last year. That compares with 39 percent when testing began in 2002. Likewise, 44 percent of students demonstrated proficiency in math, compared with 19 percent in 2002.