Hawaii schools' progress slides
The percentage of Hawaii schools meeting federal requirements for academic progress last year was the second-lowest of any state in the country, according to U.S. Department of Education data.
Just 34 percent of Hawaii schools achieved "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, according to the results of 2005 standardized tests that were released last fall.
The new state-by-state comparison, initially obtained by Bloomberg news service, puts Hawaii ahead of only Florida, where just 28 percent of schools achieved AYP. Florida disputes the result, claiming 35 percent of its schools made it.
MAKING THE GRADE
The states with the highest and lowest percentages of public schools that met federal academic performance requirements last year, according to federal Department of Education data*:
1. Oklahoma: 97%
2. Rhode Island: 95%
3. Iowa: 94%
Nationwide (all schools): 73%
48. District of Columbia: 40%
49. Hawaii: 34%
50. Florida: 28%
* Data for New Jersey were unavailable.
Source: U.S. Department of Education
Nationally, 73 percent of all U.S. schools made the grade, down 1 percentage point from the previous year.
However, Hawaii school officials and other education experts cautioned that such comparisons are unreliable since each state's test is different. And there are some reports of states manipulating data or dumbing down tests to keep schools in compliance with the tough No Child Left Behind law.
By contrast, Hawaii's image of poor performance stems in part from its "extremely faithful" implementation of the law, said Robert McClelland, planning and evaluation director for the Hawaii Department of Education.
"We're still holding schools accountable. We have high expectations for the schools as well as for the kids. Dumbing down the standards won't do anybody any good," he said.
Under the Bush administration's 2002 law, certain percentages of students must show "proficiency" on tested subjects for the school to achieve AYP. Repeated failure leads to sanctions.
Hawaii's proficiency targets rose significantly last year to 44 percent of students for reading and 28 percent for math. Its state test also has been rated as one of the most difficult in the country.
Hawaii education officials have noted that nearly 70 percent of Hawaii schools would have achieved AYP if the targets had not risen.
Instead, Hawaii had the third-biggest drop in AYP percentage in the country last year, falling 19 percentage points from 2004's 53 percent. Idaho, which also raised its proficiency bar last year, had the biggest drop, slipping 31 percentage points to 51 percent of schools last year.
The state-by-state data raises doubts, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based research group.
He cited Oklahoma, where 97 percent of schools made the grade, compared to 75 percent a year earlier, thanks to "a technical change" in state accountability systems.
"The bottom line is, any time you create these high-stakes testing situations, you're going to get people playing games," said Dr. Randy Hitz, dean of the University of Hawaii's College of Education.
Hawaii's Assistant Superintendent Kathy Kawaguchi said No Child Left Behind's emphasis on test scores has helped Hawaii tighten the focus on using student achievement data to guide instructional decisions and, ultimately, improve accountability.
"That's where we buy into it," she said.
The downside, she said, is the law's rigidity, strict timelines, and the branding of schools and states as "failing" despite the lack of a common nationwide test. Under the law, proficiency targets must rise steadily to 100 percent of students by 2013-2014.
"It's not so much the 'what' that's the problem, it's the 'how' and 'how quickly,'" Kawaguchi said.
The law allows states to adjust both their tests and the formulas by which they calculate yearly progress, leaving parents and policymakers unable to make definite conclusions about such numbers, education analysts said.
"These stats are meaningless in the absence of a common test and common standards," said Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University.
Hawaii's Department of Education released a new version of its own statewide academic content standards this fall. Officials say the standards are more "focused" but no less rigorous.
Oklahoma's 97 percent success rate led the nation, followed by Rhode Island with 95 percent and Iowa at 94 percent. The bottom three were Florida, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., where 40 percent of schools hit AYP. Data for only one state, New Jersey, was not available.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.