Friday, July 15, 2005

Isles get break
on federal
schools law

The No Child Left Behind changes
could ease some pressure

Hawaii's public schools have gained a bit of wiggle room in meeting some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Hawaii is one of several states that won approval from the U.S. Department of Education for certain adjustments that could help ease some of the pressure imposed by the law's stringent test-performance standards.

Though slight, the changes represent the first bones thrown to states under the term of new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who took office in April vowing to adopt a more "workable, sensible approach" to implementing the law.

The law requires public schools to achieve certain benchmarks in standardized testing or face consequences culminating in mandatory school reform, but has been criticized by many states as unworkable and overly rigid.

Among the key criticisms is a requirement that each different category of students -- including hard-to-teach groups like non-English speakers, the learning-disabled and the poor -- meet the same benchmarks as the rest of the student population.

A school currently must have at least 30 students in each category for that group's test scores to count. Hawaii has won approval to raise that to 40, said Glenn Hirata, a school evaluation specialist with the Hawaii Department of Education.

"That could help some smaller schools, where the scores of just a few kids can tip over the entire results," Hirata said.

Hawaii also will be able to factor in a margin of error of up to 5 percent in calculating the number of students who meet mandated "proficiency" in reading or math on the Hawaii State Assessment, the test that determines a school's standing under No Child Left Behind.

This year, 44 percent of students across all categories must demonstrate "proficiency" in language and 28 percent in math in tests administered this past spring.

However, depending on a school's size, those benchmarks could be eased to as low as 39 percent and 23 percent, respectively, Hirata said.

The sampling error is meant to address concerns that whole schools were being judged on the grades of only some of their students. Currently, only the scores of grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 are counted to determine a school's standing.

"That gives us a little hope. There's always a plus or minus sampling error that we haven't been able to factor in," said Catherine Payne, principal of Farrington High School.

The adjustments were among a range of acceptable options dangled by the federal Department of Education from which states could choose and will be applicable to the results of this spring's tests, which are expected out next month.

However, Hirata said the department has yet to analyze how many schools would have actually benefited from those changes had they been in place last year, but he thinks they are few.

"The jury is out on whether this will help anyone," he said, pointing out that required "proficiency" levels will continue to rise in steps to 100 percent by 2014.

Hawaii failed to get approval to increase the number of severely disabled students who are exempt from testing.

State Department of Education
State DOE: No Child Left Behind
U.S. DOE: No Child Left Behind

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