Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Student math scores jump while reading numbers slip

By Mary Vorsino


In the first year after the state's switch to an online test that could be taken up to three times, public school students saw sizable gains in math test scores, but reading scores remained static, according to statewide results released Friday.

Meanwhile, 62 percent of the state's 286 schools failed to meet annual goals of Adequate Yearly Progress for reading and math proficiency under the federal No Child Left Behind law, from 49 percent in 2010.

And for the first year, no Hawaii high schools met AYP, from five in 2010.

Why the plummet? NCLB standards were raised this year. For a school to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, 72 percent of its students had to have tested proficient in reading and 64 percent proficient in math.

That's a substantially higher bar than the past three years, when a school met AYP if at least 58 percent of its students were proficient in reading and 46 percent proficient in math.

"I'm disappointed (in the results). I think we all are," said Cara Tanimura, director of the Department of Education's systems accountability office.

"We were hoping for a little more gain, especially in reading. And because the annual measurable objectives went up, unfortunately, the number of schools that met AYP went down."

The state's performance this year is likely to add fuel locally to a national debate about NCLB, which has been widely criticized for overemphasizing test scores and unfairly punishing schools with large numbers of special-education or disadvantaged students.

The Obama administration has urged Congress to take action to overhaul the law, but for now school districts are expected to continue working toward rising proficiency goals.

AYP goals will rise again in 2013, when 86 percent of students at Hawaii schools must be proficient in reading and 82 percent proficient in math.

"Every single school is not going to make it," said Glenn Hirata, DOE evaluations specialist. "This 100 percent is really arbitrary and dreamlike."

Under NCLB, schools that do not achieve adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years are subject to varying sanctions that include state intervention and replacement of school staff. Eighty-seven Hawaii schools are in "restructuring" and face the most severe sanctions under NCLB.

About 94,500 public school students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 took the Hawaii State Assessment in testing periods from October to May.

DOE officials point out that though the number of schools that did not meet AYP rose, the state continues to see steady gains in student reading and math proficiency.

Statewide, 54 percent of students tested proficient in math this year, from 48 percent last year and 38 percent in 2007.

Students in third through sixth and eighth grades saw gains in math proficiency. In reading proficiency, four grade levels lost ground, while fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders saw gains.

The results come on the heels of better-than-expected results in the 2009-10 school year despite teacher furloughs on instructional days, and as the department struggles to boost student achievement and meet education reform pledges.

Officials were hoping that switching to an online test (from a paper-and-pencil one) and giving students up to three chances to take the assessment would improve scores.

Janette Snelling, principal at Kohala Middle School, which made AYP, said her students were prepared for the online format thanks to intermittent "formative testing" on computers.

"The switch to an online test, fortunately, wasn't as huge as maybe some of the schools that weren't doing testing in that manner," she said.

The rising annual goals took the hardest toll on high schools: None made AYP, from five last year. Waialua High and Intermediate did meet the benchmarks, however.

Mitchell Otani, principal of Kalani High, said missing the benchmark is tough to swallow. The school has met AYP every year since 2005.

This year, 79 percent of Kalani 10th-graders tested proficient in reading, compared with 86 percent last year. Some 52 percent tested proficient in math, from 64 percent last year.

Otani believes the drop in scores is due in part to a larger-than-average group of repeat 10th-graders who took the test.

He also said that it's been difficult to persuade high-schoolers to take the assessment seriously, when it doesn't count toward their grades or determine whether they graduate.

"Some kids will put in that 110 percent effort, and other kids will blow it off," Otani said. "It's a challenge for high schools."

There were several bright spots in the numbers this year, meanwhile.

Nanakuli Elementary met adequate yearly progress for the first time since 2004 through "safe harbor," which rewards schools for big year-over-year improvements.

Fifty-two percent of Nanakuli's students were proficient in reading, from 33 percent last year. In math, 60 percent tested proficient, from 36 percent.

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