Isle kids gain in math but not in reading
Ninety-five of 282 schools appear to reach state targets
Hawaii public school students achieved solid gains in math scores in annual state testing, but disappointing results in other areas prevented state school officials from declaring victory.
Led by improvements in the fourth grade and middle schools, Hawaii pupils extended a four-year rise in mathematics scores, with 27 percent achieving "proficiency" on the Hawaii State Assessment administered this past spring, up from 23 percent last year.
Many schools had sharpened their focus on math during the past year to address the chronically low proficiency levels, state Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said.
"The message was clear: Math scores clearly needed improvement, and there was a concerted effort to improve them," said Hamamoto, who presented the results to the Board of Education yesterday.
Grades 3-8 and 10 were tested, with all grades except fifth and 10th improving in math.
The fourth-grade showing in math improved to 33 percent proficient this year from 29 percent last year, while seventh-graders leapt to 29 percent from 23 percent. Proficiency means students have achieved what Hawaii expects of them for their grade level.
Schools have been pushing hard in recent years to raise test scores in both math and reading to avoid sanctions under No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to meet steadily rising proficiency percentages.
However, after rising steadily in past years, scores on the HSA's reading and language arts portion stagnated.
Forty-seven percent of students -- the same as last year -- reached reading proficiency.
The outcomes at some specific grade levels were even more worrisome. Tenth-grade math scores were three percentage points lower than they were two years ago. Fifth-grade reading scores tumbled to 44 percent proficient this year from 56 percent last year, while their math results also dipped.
Hamamoto said the department will analyze what could have caused those drops, but warned against "getting lost" in the yearly fluctuations, noting that the general trend has been solidly upward since the HSA was first administered in 2002.
"Yes, some of it this year is flat, some doesn't look too good, but overall there is growth, there is progress. Our kids are learning," she said.
According to preliminary calculations, just 95 of the 282 schools tested reached the schoolwide targets for adequate progress for student proficiency. Last year, 97 schools reached it.
In general, 44 percent of a school's students had to reach proficiency in reading and 28 in math to reach adequate progress.
Failure to achieve adequate progress triggers steadily tightening sanctions under No Child Left Behind, culminating in broad school reforms known as "restructuring."
Yesterday's results bring the total of restructuring schools to 50, up from 24 last year.
So far, this typically been done with one of three mainland education reform consultancies advising schools on how to reform.
Some troubled schools have turned things around with their provider's help.
Palolo's Jarrett Middle School, which has high numbers of economically disadvantaged students and immigrants with poor English skills, had fallen into restructuring status and contracted with one of the firms, Edison Alliance, to restructure.
But this year it achieved adequate progress for the second straight year, effectively clearing it of all No Child Left Behind sanctions.
"It's a great feeling. We're going to celebrate," said Principal Gerald Teramae. "We're going to put on a lunch next week for the staff with some good food, not school food."
Edison helped institute a system of regular student tests and provided computers and software that allow teachers to instantly analyze the results to spot areas where students need more help. They also provided training for teachers and brought a new "mind-set," Teramae said.
"Having that outside perspective was really important. We basically knew the things we had to do, but they helped get us going," he said.
The school also has devised a schedule that results in free time for teachers, who then work with lagging students, and it has a "parent involver" in staff, who visits students' homes in the Palolo housing projects to make sure they are coming to school.
"Just getting kids to come to school is a challenge in areas like ours," he said.
Four of the seven schools now working with Edison -- Jarrett, along with Palolo, Aiea and Paia Elementary -- made adequate progress this year. None of the 13 schools that have been working with Edison rivals ETS Pulliam and America's Choice reached adequate progress.
However, Board of Education members declined to reach any conclusions on the results, saying they would wait until a Department of Education analysis of the results is completed.
"We're happy to see some of this growth, and we're disturbed to see the declines, but we really need to see the analysis before we can jump to any conclusions," said Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen.
Hamamoto said steady turnover among teachers had resulted in about 40 percent of the state's teachers being replaced in the past few years and that scores are expected to be better once the new recruits hone their skills.
A change in test providers also is expected to lead to potentially more positive math test results, especially in 10th grade, official said. The current version of the HSA tests 10th-graders on some math concepts that they have not even taken yet, said Selvin Chin-Chance, the state's head of test development.
A new version of the HSA to be introduced next spring by new provider American Institutes for Research should address this and other problems in the test, he said.
About 95,000 students were tested on the HSA and the Stanford Achievement Test this spring, up from 55,000 in previous years, when only grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 were tested.