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Principals 'ecstatic' over test results

Public schools score better than in '09

By Mary Vorsino

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 12:14 a.m. HST, Jul 17, 2010


CORRECTION

Hawaii public school students were last tested for science proficiency in fall 2007. This year was the first time that they have been tested for science in the spring. A Page A19 article on Thursday said students were tested for science proficiency for the first time this year.

 

Despite spending fewer days in the classroom, public school students continued to make gains in reading and math test scores this year, according to results released yesterday.

And nearly half of Hawaii's schools reached annual progress goals under No Child Left Behind requirements, compared with 36 percent last year, the state Department of Education said.

The improvements on the high-stakes test made for some downright giddy educators, many of whom had been bracing for declines in test scores in the wake of teacher furloughs.

"Oh, my, I'm ecstatic," said Justin Mew, principal of Niu Valley Middle School, which saw improvements in reading and math, though it fell short of meeting annual NCLB progress goals. "I'm jumping for joy."

Michael Nakasato, principal of Pearl City Highlands Elementary School, said his campus met annual goals after not hitting them last year.

"If I was a betting man, I would have said that we weren't going to make it," he said.

Some 93,190 students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 took the Hawaii State Assessment tests in April—a point at which they had lost nearly three weeks of school to teacher furloughs that drew the ire of parents and gave Hawaii the shortest school calendar in the nation.

Overall, preliminary statewide results released at a Board of Education meeting yesterday in Kapolei showed 67 percent of public school students tested proficient in reading. That compares with 65 percent last year and 41 percent in 2003.

Meanwhile, 49 percent of students were proficient in math in the latest results, up from 44 percent last year and 20 percent in 2003.

In all, 141 public schools—49 percent—made adequate yearly progress under NCLB this year, compared with 101 last year and 119 in 2008.

Fifty-one percent of schools, or 145 campuses, did not meet annual goals.

Several campuses saw big gains in scores—improvements they attributed to more focus on groups of struggling students, bolstered tutoring programs and efforts to maximize classroom time by doing away with field trips or other activities.

But their celebration was tempered by the knowledge that next year the NCLB proficiency goals will increase, after remaining the same for three years, and the number of schools expected to hit "adequate yearly progress" is expected to plummet.

Some schools did see significant declines in proficiency this year, especially among low-income students and those for whom English is not their first language.

Even so, Board of Education members said schools and teachers deserve high praise for improving test scores overall despite teacher furlough days and deep budget cuts.

"It's truly remarkable," said board member Karen Knudsen.

BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi said yesterday at the BOE meeting that "despite the challenges we've had this year, the results have obviously shown that once again educators rise to the challenge."

DOE administrators said the scores will have to be further studied to determine how to help schools—and students—that continue to struggle.

Dan Hamada, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and student support, said schools sometimes fail to achieve progress goals by just a handful of students, and so targeted help is key.

"We're always striving to improve," he said.

There has been growing criticism of No Child Left Behind, now in its ninth year, which many say overemphasizes test scores and unfairly punishes schools with large numbers of special-education or disadvantaged students.

The Obama administration and Congress are considering changes to the law, specifically to adequate yearly progress benchmarks, but for now school districts are expected to continue working toward proficiency goals.

Hawaii students in every grade level, except sixth and 10th grades, saw gains in reading proficiency this year. Every grade level saw improvements in math, except fourth grade, which remained steady at 50 percent of students who test as proficient.

Hawaii public school students were last tested for science proficiency in fall 2007. This year was the first time that they have been tested for science in the spring.

Some 49 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in science, compared with 41 percent of sixth-graders. Some 27 percent of 10th-graders were proficient.

NCLB not only requires math and reading proficiency in the overall student population of a school, but also in each significant subgroup. Students are categorized in 37 subgroups, from specific ethnicities to various income levels to English-as-a-second-language students.

This year, 35 Hawaii schools did not meet proficiency goals because of lagging achievement in one subgroup. Some 32 schools failed after not meeting goals in two subgroups.

Niu Valley Middle School did not meet annual yearly progress goals because its special-education population fell short of proficiency benchmarks. Mew, the principal, said about 15 percent of his school's students are in special education.

Seventeen percent of Niu Valley special-education students tested as proficient in math, up from 11 percent last year, and 38 percent proficient in reading, up from 15 percent.

Mew said what is important is that progress is being made, not that the school fell short of goals.

"We have to celebrate," he said. "This is terrific."

Campbell High School also failed to meet progress goals because of achievement gaps among special-education students.

But overall, 50 percent of Campbell students tested proficient in math, up from 38 percent last year. Reading proficiency nudged up 2 percentage points, to 80 percent.

"What we're going to do right now (is) ... go back and address how can we look at this data? What are the implications of this data?" said Jamie Dela Cruz, acting principal at Campbell. "Do I believe we would have seen better numbers without the furloughs? That remains to be seen."

For a school to attain it goals this year on the Hawaii State Assessment, 58 percent of students must demonstrate proficiency in reading, and 46 percent must be proficient in math.

The benchmarks have remained the same for three years, but they increase next year: 72 percent of students will have to be proficient in reading, and 64 percent of students proficient in math.

By 2014, 100 percent of students are expected to demonstrate a high level of skill in core subjects.

Schools that do no achieve adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years are subject to varying sanctions that include state intervention and replacement of school staff. This year, 92 schools are in "restructuring" and face the most severe sanctions under NCLB.

Benjamin Parker Elementary School, which has failed to meet adequate yearly progress for years and is in restructuring, also fell short of NCLB benchmarks this year. Principal Wade Araki said his subgroup of low-income students struggle most with the annual tests.

About 66 percent of the school's population is economically disadvantaged. This year the low-income students saw declines in proficiency in both reading and math, while the overall population saw proficiency remain about steady.

"When you have fewer days of school, those are the kids that suffer the most," Araki said. "I take it as a principal that I failed my kids. Bottom line, they should be getting better."

High schools are having the toughest time achieving the standards.

Only five Hawaii high schools and seven combination schools that include high school grades made adequate yearly progress, including Kaiser, Kalaheo, Kalani and Roosevelt highs.

Darrel Galera, principal of Moanalua High School, which did not meet adequate yearly progress, but is exceeding standards in other areas, said yesterday that test scores are important but should be kept in perspective.

"A test score is a snapshot in time," he said, "and a test score by itself does not provide the information you need to judge a student's, a school's or a system's performance for the year."






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