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Isles’ proficiency in math, English under 50 percent

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    A teacher at Campbell HIgh, left, conducts his class.

Fewer than half of Hawaii public school students tested proficient in language arts while roughly 2 in 5 students met or exceeded benchmarks in mathematics on the new, more rigorous Smarter Balanced Assessment, according to scores released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

Education officials acknowledged the scores are below targets but noted that Hawaii students either outperformed or tied with their peers in other states that have released Smarter Balanced scores for individual grades and subjects.

Hawaii is among 23 states and territories that administered the new test, which is aligned to the Common Core standards — nationally crafted academic standards that lay out what students should know and be able to do in reading and math from kindergarten to grade 12. The federal government requires states to annually test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.

More than 89,300 isle students took the Smarter Balanced test last school year, with a 97 percent participation rate among eligible students. Overall, 48 percent of Hawaii students met or exceeded the achievement standard for English language arts — which tests students on reading, listening, writing and research skills — and 41 percent were deemed proficient in math.

In math, Hawaii’s third-graders performed best, with 50 percent of students testing proficient. On the opposite end, only 30 percent of 11th-graders met the achievement standard in math. For language arts, the state’s fifth-graders performed best, with 54 percent of students meeting the standard, while 44 percent of seventh-graders tested proficient.

“These first-year results show promise,” schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a statement. “Test scores show we’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the right track for all students to be college- and career-ready.”

At individual schools, proficiency levels exceeded 90 percent for certain grades and subjects at some Hawaii elementary schools. However, some of the state’s smaller schools saw zero proficiency in some grades. The state plans to release more detailed school-level data next month when it releases its latest round of results on the Strive HI accountability system, which uses test scores as one metric for how well schools are performing.

As of this week 10 other states have released preliminary or final Smarter Balanced scores. A multistate analysis of results shows that for each of the tested grades and subjects, Hawaii students outperformed their peers in those 10 states in all but one instance, in which case Hawaii was tied with another state.

In math, Hawaii performed better than seven of the states for grades 4, 5, 6 and 8, including California, Connecticut, Maine and West Virginia. In language arts, Hawaii’s results beat four of the 10 states for grades 4 and 5 and three of the states for grades 6 and 11.

“We’re not satisfied with these percentages, but at the same time we’re pleased to see where we stand with regards to other states,” DOE Deputy Superintendent Stephen Schatz said. “This is the starting point. The next step for us is to dig into where we’re doing well and where we’re not, and see where we can make an impact.”

Tammi Chun, assistant superintendent of the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Performance, said all Smarter Balanced member states share the same cut scores, or thresholds for determining whether students are proficient.

“What that means is if you are meeting the achievement standard in mathematics in Hawaii, you are also meeting the same standard that Delaware and Missouri and Washington are holding their students to,” Chun said. “When we look at the state comparisons on Smarter Balanced, we see that we are further ahead than we typically see ourselves on national comparisons, which is promising. What that really shows us is that our teachers have really worked hard on (implementing) Common Core.”

Brian De Lima, vice chairman of the Board of Education, called the results positive. “I think the results are very positive, because it’s comparing our students with other students from other states, and our students are holding their own or exceeding other states,” he said after the scores were presented to the board Tuesday. “The bar is the same, the rigor is the same and our students are able to achieve positive results.”

As expected, the number of students testing proficient on Smarter Balanced was lower than the number deemed proficient on its predecessor, the Hawaii State Assessment, or HSA. But officials have cautioned against comparing the results. The new tests are designed to emphasize critical thinking, problem solving and analytical thinking over rote memorization. Students are required to show how they reached their answers, and if they answer correctly, they get a more difficult question.

“It’s less about the format. Our expectations are higher under Common Core than they had been under HSA,” Chun said. “The expectations are more challenging, so we view this as the new base line for whether or not our students are college- and career-ready.”

For high-schoolers, proficient Smarter Balanced scores are recognized at nearly 200 colleges and universities for placement into college-level courses, including the University of Hawaii. Based on this year’s results, some 5,300 public school seniors, or approximately half, are eligible for placement into college-level classes.

“Our agreement to accept 11th-grade Smarter Balanced scores for college placement demonstrates the University of Hawaii system’s recognition and appreciation of (the DOE) increasing preparedness of their graduates,” UH President David Lassner said in a statement. “UH’s acceptance of Smarter Balanced scores means these tests count for students.”

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