State compresses time for standardized tests
The four-day schedule will free up more days for student instruction
Aiming to reduce stress on students and allow schools more instruction time, the Department of Education will compress the annual round of high-stakes standardized testing into just four days beginning next year.
The plan would consolidate the current 10 individual test sessions of the Hawaii State Assessment and SAT into six sessions administered April 9-12, resulting in a slightly reduced number of actual test questions.
The change would trim at least a few days off the time schools now spend administering the tests.
"It's a good idea, and I think it will work out well," said Maggie Cox, a former teacher and principal who is now a member of the Board of Education. The board approved the plan on Thursday.
"I still have educators in my family, and when I told them about it, they went, 'Oh, yes!'" she said.
Teachers have complained about student burnout due to the length of the exams, which are used to determine whether schools are complying with federal achievement demands.
It also deprives them of days that could be spent teaching and forces them to hurry to teach all relevant concepts before the current testing window, between early March and mid-April, they say.
The changes will result in a roughly 10 percent reduction in actual test items, said Selvin Chin-Chance, head of test development.
He said they also reduce the likelihood of anything going wrong. The department's current test developer, Harcourt, was blamed in recent years for problems including errors in test questions and fumbled delivery of test materials. It is being replaced by the American Institutes for Research.
Some schools had to retake the tests last year following improper handling of the top-secret materials before the exams.
"Now, instead of six weeks for any screw-ups to occur, there will be only one week," Chin-Chance said.
Cox said it remains to be seen whether compression will actually mean less stress on kids, since they will be packing much into four days.
"But when you have this stretched out over many days, like it is now, students get tired and they don't think, they just mark," she said.
Officials say the move is made possible by a new version of the state's academic content standards being introduced next year, which consolidates and streamlines many of the key concepts students are expected to learn and be tested on.
Cox said she remains a little concerned that all important standards can still be tested in that window.
"We'll have to see how it plays out," she said.
Hugo Diaz, a fourth-grade teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary, said pressure to perform well on the test forces him to compress and rush his instruction as testing season approaches.
"I think they're moving in the right direction, but why not go further? Why not push it back to May or even June?" he said.
But Chin-Chance said doing that raises the risk that all test scores cannot be computed and reported to federal authorities by the start of the next school year in late July, as required by federal law.
Under the plan, makeup sessions would be held April 13-20. Charter schools and the state's four multitrack schools will be allowed some flexibility under the new schedule.