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Educators brace for furloughs’ impact on scores

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The annual Hawaii State Assessment scores will be released this week, and many educators are bracing for bad news, saying budget cuts and teacher furloughs are almost certain to have had a negative effect.

Poor scores could mean more public schools will fail to meet progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

But some are reserving hope that test scores have actually improved.

"This is going to be an interesting year, with furloughs having an impact. Hopefully, it’s not too adverse," said Garrett Toguchi, chairman of the Board of Education. "Maybe it will surprise us and have an opposite effect."

The scores, set to be released Thursday, come as Hawaii public schools are asked to meet ever-increasing No Child Left Behind standards while they also are trying to scale back the pricey practice of bringing in consultants to help low-performing schools improve test scores.

About 90,000 public school students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 took the annual assessments in April — a point at which they had lost nearly three weeks of instructional time to teacher furloughs.

Many schools tried to maximize classroom hours by rearranging bell schedules and cutting back on other activities, from art instruction to field trips. Several beefed up after-school tutoring, in hopes of helping struggling students get up to speed.

Miki St. Laurent, principal of Kalakaua Middle School in Kalihi, said furlough days presented challenges for her and her teachers.

About 60 percent of the school’s 980 students are learning English as a second language.

"That runs the gamut from no English to some English," she said.

St. Laurent said even if her students do not meet the high proficiency goals in reading and math required this year under NCLB, she is optimistic they have made progress.

"I’m looking forward to our test scores," she said. "Even with the challenges that we saw with the furlough days, we saw the growth that was happening within our own assessments."

Gary Yasui, principal of Holomua Elementary School in Ewa Beach, said he has to stay upbeat about the forthcoming test scores. Otherwise, it "gets so daunting" worrying about hitting NCLB goals.

But he is also realistic.

"You would assume that the furloughs are not going to impact (test scores) in a positive way," said Yasui, whose school failed to make adequate yearly progress last year. "I don’t think people are going to be surprised" if scores go down.

Karen Knudsen, Board of Education second vice chairwoman, said it will be difficult to say for certain whether furloughs affected test scores, because other factors could also be at play, from budget cuts to families falling on tough times as they struggle with layoffs and wage cuts in the recession.

Regardless, she said, furloughs will probably be largely blamed for any drop in scores.

"I think we’re all just waiting to see," Knudsen said.

The furloughs, which left Hawaii public school students with the shortest school year in the nation and spurred widespread criticism, ended in May because of a deal that included $57 million from the Hurricane Relief Fund and a $10 million, interest-free line of credit from local banks.

For a school to attain its goals this year on the Hawaii State Assessment (or make what is referred to as "adequate yearly progress" under NCLB), 58 percent of students must demonstrate proficiency in reading, and 46 percent must be proficient in math.

Next year the benchmarks increase: 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 not achieve adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years are subject to varying levels of sanctions that include state intervention and replacement of school staff. Last year, 91 schools entered "restructuring," the most severe sanction under NCLB.

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.

The state spent about $12 million in federal money last school year on contracts with consultants to help 54 schools improve test scores. That is up from $7.9 million spent in 2006.

Dan Hamada, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and student support, said those consultants have been charged with providing comprehensive services to schools, from curriculum help to professional development. But starting with this school year, schools and complex areas will be taking on more of those duties, and consultants will instead provide an "array of services" to schools in their greatest areas of need.

The switch will save money but also is designed to give schools more autonomy and let them adopt the strategies that work best with their student populations.

"Schools are going to have to pick up the responsibility," Hamada said.


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