Hawaii public school students improved their English performance by four percentage points while math skills stayed flat on the 2018 Smarter Balanced Assessment, according to results presented Thursday to the Board of Education.
Altogether, 54 percent of Hawaii’s students met or exceeded achievement standards in English language arts, up from 50 percent last year. Every grade level showed improvement with 11th graders doing the best, at 61 percent proficient. It was the fourth year in a row the junior class had boosted its English performance.
“We are very excited about what we continue to accomplish in the Department of Education and the continued upward growth,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said. “It’s unusual to see growth across every single tested grade so this is something to celebrate.”
Statewide math scores, however, stagnated at 42 percent of students proficient, and science also showed no change from last year with 46 percent of students meeting the standard.
“These are overall very encouraging results,” said board member Bruce Voss. “A 4 percentage point increase on a test as hard as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, that’s statistically significant and reflects a lot of hard work by the teachers and the principals.”
But he pressed the superintendent to explain why the trend line on math proficiency heads downward from elementary school to high school, unlike for the English scores. Just 32 percent of 11th graders were ranked proficient in math this year compared to 55 percent of third graders.
“What, if anything, can we do in reversing that?” Voss asked.
Kishimoto said she hoped that Next Generation Science Standards, a multistate effort that embeds math, and the national Computer Sciences standards that were recently adopted will help engage students and give them more practice in applied math.
“Students are not only going to get math instruction in math but they are also going to get it in science,” she said.
Kishimoto also predicted that recent improvements in English language arts would help pave the way for better performance in higher-level math as students move up through the system in future years. Math test problems these days incorporate a great deal of language.
Students in third through eighth grade as well as 11th graders take the SBA English and math tests. Students in grades four and eight also take a state science test and high school students take an end-of-course biology exam.
Students with high needs posted the same 4-point gain in English as their peers and stayed steady in other subjects. But the achievement gap between them and their peers showed no sign of shrinking. Almost half of public school students are defined as “high need,” which means they are English language learners, economically disadvantaged or in special education.
Among high need students, 39 percent scored proficient in English,
compared to 72 percent of their classmates without those academic hurdles. In math, 29 percent of high need students reached proficiency while
58 percent of non-high-needs students did.
Kishimoto has focused on those needy students, creating task forces to produce a comprehensive needs assessment for special education and English language learners in the last school year. The task force recommendations are now moving into implementation, according to Rodney Luke, an assistant superintendent.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment is aligned with the Common Core curriculum that was adopted by a number of states and is considered rigorous. Voss asked how Hawaii’s latest performance stacks up compared to other states in the Common Core consortium but Kishimoto said it was too early to say because results have not yet been made public.
The state’s accountability system, known as Strive HI, includes a range of measures beyond test scores to assess school and student progress.
It showed substantial growth in the number of high school students tackling college-level work such as Advanced Placement or dual credit Early College courses. Among members of the Class of 2017, 43 percent took such courses, a big jump from 33 percent for the Class of 2013.
Chronic absenteeism, however, remained a problem in Hawaii’s public schools, with an average of 15 percent of students missing 15 or more days in an academic year, the same percentage as last year. That figure worsens as students get older, with 13 percent of elementary students and 20 percent in high school students chronically absent last year.
The statewide report also showed that 48 percent of students completed a Career and Technical Education certificate by 12th grade, 83 percent graduated on time, and 55 percent enrolled in post-secondary institutions the fall after graduation.
Strive HI includes individual reports for each school, available online, to give educators and local communities detailed information so that they can take action to address problems and learn from each other’s successes.
Waiau Elementary School in Pearl City, for example, notched excellent science scores, with 92 percent proficient this year as compared to 57 percent of fourth graders statewide, although half of Waiau’s students are economically disadvantaged. The campus also includes a Hawaiian immersion program.
“First and foremost, I have great teachers,” said Principal Troy Takazono, adding that all his teachers volunteered last summer to attend Next Generation Science Standards training. “The great thing about science is there is no set curriculum so the teachers can use their creativeness, once they understand the standards, to build a curriculum that is engaging for the students.”
Another school that bucked statewide trends is Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, which managed to raise its math proficiency level by 12 percentage points over last year, to 41 percent, outperforming the statewide average for high schools.
“In the last couple of years we have adopted a universal screener to our math,” Shawn Nakata, a vice principal, explained in an interview. “It spells out the strengths and weaknesses of the students. It drove our data team. We had a chance to look at our instructional strategies and see what’s working in our school and what’s not working.”
Leilehua also cut its absenteeism rate to 14 percent from 17 percent in 2016. That came after it rearranged its counseling system so that each grade level has two counselors assigned to it plus a vice principal. Previously counselors were assigned alphabetically by last name of the student. The new system allows them to connect better with students and create initiatives specific to each grade level.
“We did have to increase the number of counselors, but we felt that was really important, focusing on the whole child and helping each student,” said Jennifer Okuma, another Leilehua vice principal.