Sunday, September 5, 2004


Test scores steals show
on the educational stage


Students in public charter schools scored higher on the Hawaii State Assessment than those in traditional classrooms.

SCORES of students in public charter schools indicating that, on average, they tested better than their peers in Hawaii's traditional schools support the benefits such schools provide some children.

More importantly, the test scores help parents measure how well a particular school is doing overall in educating children.

Beyond that, the scores are merely a way for state agencies to gauge compliance with the onerous No Child Left Behind Act through which the federal government parcels out funding and attempts to direct education across the nation. As a result of the law, test scores have come to dominate educational agendas, masking the complexities and myriad issues involved.

Test scores certainly are useful and have served to spur educators and political officials to pay more attention to learning needs. But they are simply the sum of numerous factors that must be separated and analyzed in order to be meaningful to individual children and their parents.

The charter school scores present a prime illustration of the need for examining the specifics rather than generalizations.

For the first time, the state Department of Education has grouped Hawaii State Assessment test scores of children attending charters schools so that charters, in which 4,520 students are enrolled, can be compared to regular schools with 177,910 pupils.

Taken as a whole, charter students mostly scored higher, but individual breakdowns are more revealing.

Among third-graders, for example, 56 percent in charter schools were proficient in reading, compared to 47 percent in regular classrooms. In math, the numbers were 36 percent in charters, 27 percent in traditional schools.

From these results, conclusions could be drawn that charter schools are better for children and are the way to go in public education. However, a closer look shows that students in larger or well-established charter schools led the way in proficiency while smaller, newer schools lagged behind. Some, such as Education Lab, had 60 percent of pupils at that level in reading, with 10 percent exceeding proficiency and none falling at the lowest rank. Meanwhile, others had 75 and 67 percent at the bottom tier and none meeting proficiency.

Disparities exist among traditional schools as well because public school campuses have diverse student populations and factors such as income levels and English-language skills weigh heavily on student performance.

Children learn in different ways and charter schools expand public education opportunities. The schools have struggled to overcome funding and administrative roadblocks, but are widely recognized as legitimate institutions that meet academic standards.

Charter schools by nature are different and grouping test results paints an inaccurate picture of success or failure. Moreover, the current emphasis on scores betrays the individual complexion of learning and the many components necessary to educate a child.




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