Public schools will roll out online testing for reading and math proficiency this fall, and for the first time students will be able to take the assessment up to three times, with the highest score being used to gauge what they are learning in the classroom.
Department of Education officials believe shifting from paper-and-pencil exams will improve scores at a time when schools are facing increasing proficiency benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law.
Educators also hope online testing will appeal more to today’s tech-savvy students. Exams will feature interactive elements, including animation and computer graphics, that would not be possible on a paper test.
"We think they’ll do better because they’ll be more engaged," said Cara Tanimura, director of the department’s systems accountability office. "It’s taking a test in the medium that they were brought up in."
» The Hawaii State Assessment will be administered online this year for the first time.
» Students can take the test up to three times, and the highest score will be used.
» Teachers will be able to see right away how students did.
» Students will be able to "pause" testing for 20-minute breaks and return to a section.
Students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 will be able to take the online Hawaii State Assessment during an eight-month period, from October to May. Schools were administering the paper test over three weeks in April, and results did not come out until July.
Introduction of the online test comes on the heels of improvements in meeting student proficiency goals. Despite teacher furloughs, nearly half of Hawaii’s schools reached annual progress goals this year under NCLB requirements, compared with 36 percent last year.
Overall, 67 percent of public school students tested proficient in reading this year, up 2 percentage points from last year. Meanwhile, 49 percent of students were proficient in math in the latest results, up from 44 percent last year.
The state is spending about $12 million on the online test — about $2 million more than the paper test — but expects the annual cost to drop by half by 2012.
At least seven other states administer assessments online on secure browsers, according to the Education Commission of the States.
The commission could not say how many of those states allow students to take tests multiple times, but said it was not unheard of.
The U.S. Department of Education also did not have those figures, and said how assessments are administered is up to states.
Kathy Christie, chief of staff of the education commission, said she expects more states to move to online testing because it has some big advantages, from giving teachers real-time results on how their students are doing to not having to deal with tens of thousands of paper tests and "protect (them) from prying eyes."
She added, though, that moving to online tests is "complex" because it requires schools to have infrastructure in place.
The Department of Education worked this spring to make sure schools had the computers needed for online tests. Students also tried their hand in a pilot project aimed at spotting potential problems.
Principals said field testing largely went as planned, though some had trouble setting up the computers properly.
Still, several said they are looking forward to the new testing system.
Wade Araki, principal of Kaneohe’s Benjamin Parker Elementary School, which is in restructuring after failing to meet adequate yearly progress, said he hopes the online tests will relieve some of the pressure high-stakes exams put on students since they will be able to take it again if they were having a bad day or feeling sick.
"It gives the kid an advantage," he said.
Randolph Scoville, principal of Ahuimanu Elementary School, said the online assessment gives teachers "instant access" to scores so they can determine what students are struggling to grasp.
Scoville also believes students will do better simply because they are taking the test on a computer. "Technology is a way of life for them," he said.
The online test is being put in place as proficiency benchmarks are going up, after remaining the same for three years. This year, 72 percent of Hawaii students will have to be proficient in reading (up from 58 percent), and 64 percent of students proficient in math (from 46 percent for 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 sanctions that include state intervention and replacement of school staff. This year, 92 schools — or more than one-third of all campuses — are in "restructuring" and face the most severe sanctions under NCLB.