Difficulty of test disputed
The public school proficiency exam should be harder, not easier, a group says
Answering a question that has loomed ever larger in Hawaii's education debate, a leading education reform group said yesterday that no, Hawaii's annual public-school assessment test is not "too hard."
An official with Washington, D.C.-based Achieve Inc. even suggested that the Hawaii State Assessment test could be made even more challenging to better prepare local students for an increasingly competitive world.
"It's fair to set the bar even higher if that's what the real world is demanding," Achieve Executive Vice President Matthew Gandal told the Board of Education.
As growing numbers of Hawaii students fail to pass the HSA, parents, educators and even Gov. Linda Lingle have suggested the exam, particularly its math portion, asks too much of Hawaii students.
Achieve's study of the HSA's 10th-grade math and reading portions found that its math content was more "rigorous" than all but one of the six states that Achieve compared it with, Gandal said.
Hawaii also asked a relatively high percentage of advanced algebra questions, and had the highest percentage of constructed-response questions, in which test-takers must explain how they reached their answers, adding an additional challenge.
Though the HSA got lower marks in other math areas, Gandal said it "includes a higher proportion of items that measure content that reflects real-world demands" than other states' tests.
But the nonprofit, nonpartisan Achieve strongly advised against making the test easier.
"In our view, (the HSA reflects) where 10th-graders ought to be and what they ought to know," Gandal said.
In reading, Hawaii earned praise for its emphasis on informational text as opposed to literary text, which the real world demands, Gandal said, though he said the reading passages were not as challenging as they should be. Hawaii scored low on asking students to analyze text.
Scores on state tests like the HSA are used to determine whether schools are keeping up with federal demands to raise student achievement. Hawaii has one of the nation's worst records in meeting those demands, but since each state's test is different, experts say state-by-state comparisons are meaningless.
Achieve's study compared Hawaii with Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.
Offering possible reasons for Hawaii's low scores, Gandal said the HSA is longer than most other tests studied. He also noted that HSA performance is not a factor in graduation, which might make Hawaii test-takers less motivated. The other states require test passage for graduation or have plans to do so.
Assistant Superintendent Kathy Kawaguchi said Achieve's suggestions are certain to factor into future versions of the test, which is periodically revised.
But she added, they "validate what (the Department of Education) has said before, that we will not compromise the quality or the rigor of (the test)."
She noted that many of Achieve's key suggestions were recently implemented or are in the works, such as regularly testing students throughout the year to ensure they are on track, analyzing test results for areas where instruction must improve and raising course requirements.