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Hawaii News

New tests track kids’ strides

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Hawaii public schools are using a new computerized system this year to track student progress so they can catch struggling learners before they fall too far behind.

As part of the system, teachers are giving students "formative assessments" — minitests based on key benchmarks that appear on the annual Hawaii State Assessment.

The $2.6 million software system, which eventually could allow parents online access to their children’s progress, is designed to help teachers change instructional methods if their students are not getting the material, before the class moves on to a new concept.

"Formative assessment is information for the teacher," said Monica Mann, the project manager with the state Department of Education. "The teacher can say, ‘Hmm. Some of my kids didn’t get it.’ Then they can make adjustments."

That is something of a minirevolution for some classrooms, say administrators, who think the assessments could spur dramatic improvements in student performance.

The new system is a significant piece of planned reforms in the state’s Race to the Top plan: In its application to get the $75 million school improvement grant, which Hawaii was awarded in August, the state pledged to use a formative assessment system, coupled with better annual testing methods, more effective teaching and more rigorous standards to boost student achievement.

As part of the new system, students take short assessments online or on fill-in-the-bubble sheets, giving teachers immediate feedback and allowing them to make quick adjustments to their instruction.

MINITESTS

Teachers have a new system to track student progress:
» Teachers give students quick "formative assessments" to see if they are picking up concepts.
» Based on results, teachers can modify instruction quickly.
» Software cost: $2.6 million
» Schools statewide participating
» DOE officials think the program will boost student achievement.

Source: Department of Education

Teachers can see not only what questions students got wrong, but figure out what concepts they are not understanding. Then they can track a student’s progress over time.

Principals and complex-area superintendents can also track student performance and see, in real time, how well a classroom or the school as a whole is doing.

THE ROLL-OUT of the system this year to every public school statewide was "aggressive," said David Wu, DOE chief information officer, who pointed out that other states have instituted the system in the first year as pilot programs at selected schools.

This semester, teachers are required to use the system at least once, giving their students a test and logging the results.

Originally, the DOE had asked teachers to use the system at least once in the first quarter of the school year, but officials changed that after some teachers raised concerns.

At a recent BOE meeting, DOE officials said the teacher complaints ranged from technical glitches to a lack of training.

There are also some concerns locally and nationally that a new push for formative assessments will further emphasize test-taking over high-quality educational experiences.

The DOE says that is why the formative assessment system is being billed as a way to improve teaching skills and help struggling students, but not as the only way to evaluate student progress.

Dawn Kodama-Nii, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Kahala, has used the system at least five times this school year and says she is happy with it.

She said she gives her students short tests, with about 10 questions, that they can take online, and she instantly finds out how they did. If a student gets a problem wrong, an explanation on how to do the problem correctly is provided.

Kodama-Nii said after a recent lesson that she thought most of her students understood, she administered a formative assessment and found most had not.

That spurred her to review the lesson, going over in a different way the concepts students had difficulty with.

Kodama-Nii said the formative assessments provide "just a quick snapshot" of what students know or do not know.

The DOE said it has not yet decided whether requirements for using the system will increase in the new year.

But officials have said the system will be used more heavily as teachers become more comfortable with the software and that other elements of the system could be rolled out in the near future, including online parent access to student progress and grades.

 

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