DOE switching achievement tests
Only slight changes are expected in national rankings
After more than 30 years of taking the Stanford Achievement Test to compare Hawaii students' abilities with their mainland peers, local students will take a different test beginning next spring, potentially affecting the state's showing nationally.
A note about SAT
The Stanford Achievement Test is taken by students in grades three through eight and also 10, but should not be confused with another test that goes by the same acronym. The other SAT, formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test, will continue to be taken by college-bound upperclassmen, and the results used by college admission officers.
Hawaii public school students will take TerraNova, an SAT alternative, next year as part of a change in the state's test provider.
Selvin Chin-Chance, head of testing for the Hawaii Department of Education, said it is "hard to predict" the impact on Hawaii's comparison with the rest of the country, but he expects it to be slight, if any.
"Typically you won't see big jumps or falls in a switch like this. It's not like those who scored at the bottom before will now leap up to the middle, or vice versa," he said.
However, he said differences in the way each test deals with different subjects could affect scores.
"You're going to get these slight differences any time this happens. No two tests are exactly alike," he said.
After a spate of errors in test materials and other troubles, Hawaii is terminating its contract with Harcourt Assessment Inc. to develop the state's annual Hawaii State Assessment -- used to gauge each school's compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law -- and administer the SAT.
Harcourt is being replaced by the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research. AIR will administer the TerraNova test for the national comparison instead of the SAT, which is a Harcourt product.
Though less well known in Hawaii, TerraNova, a product of publishing giant McGraw-Hill, has a larger share of the mainland market than the SAT.
Both are norm-referenced tests, meaning they measure a student's performance relative to that of a representative national sample of students. Unlike the HSA, which is used under the federal No Child Left Behind law to punish schools whose students score poorly, they are used purely for national comparisons.
Hawaii students typically exceed national averages on the SAT in the elementary school years, but the trend reverses sharply as they move into middle and high school.
Although there is little difference between the SAT and TerraNova, Hawaii can still expect its scores to dip, at least initially, said Robert Schaeffer, of FairTest, a Massachusetts-based group that advocates against reliance on test scores to guide policy.
"What is likely is that you will see a decline in scores whenever a new test is administered. It's due to unfamiliarity with the test," said Schaeffer, the group's public-education editor.
Like the SAT, TerraNova test items will be integrated into the HSA.
Students are generally unable to tell where the HSA ends and the SAT begins, and that will continue with TerraNova, helping to mute any impact, Chin-Chance said.
So far, state Board of Education officials have focused on whether American Institutes for Research can avoid Harcourt's missteps on the HSA.
AIR officials have given strong assurances that they would, and, unlike Harcourt, they plan to open a Hawaii office to oversee the company's work here.
AIR has worked with Ohio's school system for several years, and the state has experienced no problems, said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
However, the testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law have caused the market to explode, putting great strain on test developers and making errors inevitable, said FairTest's Schaeffer.
"These guys are stretched so thin. Read my lips: There will be errors," he said.