A new analysis shows that Hawaii’s public school students rank in the middle of the pack in both English and math proficiency among the states that use the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
When Hawaii made its SBA scores public Oct. 3, comparisons weren’t available because the 11 states using the exam each release their results separately and on their own timing. But since then, a veteran testing specialist, Douglas McRae, based in Monterey, Calif., obtained results from 10 of those states and analyzed them. Vermont won’t release its results until later this year.
His report shows that 53.3% of Hawaii students in grades 3 through 8 tested as proficient or better in English language arts, compared to an average of 52.6% for the 10 states in the consortium. Hawaii’s proficiency rate exceeded California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and South Dakota, but fell below Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho and Washington state.
In math, 44.3% of students in Hawaii were proficient, close to the consortium average of 44%. Again, Hawaii placed fifth in the lineup, behind Washington, Connecticut, Idaho and South Dakota.
“The part that is reassuring is that we are not at the bottom, at least in this group of states,” said Catherine Payne, chairwoman of the Board of Education, when given a copy of the report to review. “It does tell us that we need to do better in math and we need to continue to improve in language arts.”
The analysis shows that all the states in the consortium have the same troubling trend of math proficiency rates dropping as students move up through grade levels. By contrast, English language arts proficiency tends to improve or stay relatively steady.
“It seems like across the board, it looks like we are in the same neighborhood,” Payne said. “We go up when they go up, we go down when they go down.”
The 2019 SBA math proficiency rate for the 10 states in math is 52% in third grade but just 39% in eighth grade. Hawaii showed a similar drop, from 56% proficient in third grade to 38% proficient in eighth grade.
“These trends across grades are very similar to the trends across grades found for Smarter Balanced states for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 results,” McRae wrote.
Students in the SBA consortium have always fared better on English than math since the exam was first given in 2015, with roughly a 10 percentage point gap between proficiency rates in the two subjects.
Between 2015 and 2019, Hawaii students’ English proficiency rate rose from 47.7% to 53.3%, and math went from 42% to 44.3% for students in grades 3 to 8.
The federal government requires every state to test all students in grades three to eight annually, plus one grade in high school. The Smarter Balanced Assessment fulfills that mandate but states may use other exams as well and some have developed their own.
SBA was created by educators to align with the Common Core State Standards developed by the states in 2010. It is a computer-based, adaptive test that automatically adjusts the difficulty of questions, giving harder ones when students answer correctly. It aims to easily identify which skills students have mastered.
“We got into this consortium because we felt we needed something to help us measure across the states and see where Hawaii is,” Payne said. “When there were a lot more states maybe it was valid to do. Now that we are down to just 11, is that a good reason for being in a consortium?”
The best cross-country comparison of academic performance is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. It is administered every other year and given to a random statistical sample of students in grades 4 and 8 across the country. Results from that test are due out this week.
Hawaii typically falls below the national average on NAEP. In 2017, the last time the English and math exam was given, Hawaii’s scores ranged from 2 to 7 percentage points below the national average, depending on the grade level and subject.
Unlike the SBA, NAEP scores are not broken down by school or released to students since the test is given to just a small fraction of students.
The Smarter Balanced consortium leaves the release of scores entirely to the states and does not compile their performance data. McRae, who has a doctorate in quantitative psychology, obtained the results by contacting each state individually. He is a retired educational testing company executive who served as an adviser for the design of California’s STAR statewide testing system.
“I just think it’s human nature, when you get your test scores back, I don’t care if it’s a teacher-created test in algebra class or the end of year test in college, you always want to know how did everybody else do on the test,” McRae said. “It’s a natural instinct.”
Payne said she recently returned from a meeting of the National Association of State School Boards in Omaha, where testing was a hot topic.
“They are talking a lot about assessments,” she said. “Many states are trying different things, trying to figure out how to get this right. Especially with the changes in instruction, they want more performance-based assessment.”
The Board of Education will hold a meeting Nov. 7 to focus on academic data including test scores, which is open to the public. It will run from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., followed by a community meeting at 3 p.m., at Waiwai Collective, 1100 University Ave.
Smarter Balance Assessment by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd