School board’s duty is to ensure tests are valid
Education officials again acknowledge that a change in student tests skews comparisons with results from previous exams.
WHEN the state Department of Education used new tests this year to assess how well public school students were learning, officials were pleased with the results -- too pleased, apparently, for some members of the Board of Education, who charged that score improvements were inflated through invalid comparisons to previous exams.
Indeed, the better scores were charted against earlier ones, but as the Star-Bulletin reported in July, department officials also acknowledged that year-to-year comparisons would not be entirely valid because the tests had been changed.
Whether the exams have been made easier, or "dumbed down," as board members suspect, is difficult to determine, but it appears the changes were reasonable, testing students on what they had been taught where previous tests included material they hadn't studied.
It's understandable that department officials would cheer the better numbers, because previous tests had produced discouraging results that sparked sanctions under the federal government's onerous No Child Left Behind law. However, a few board members think the department should have been more subdued in presenting results, complaining that its optimism painted a rosier picture than warranted.
Department officials concede they should have been more cautious in comparing results so as not to cause confusion. School Superintendent Pat Hamamoto explained that though the federal government evaluates progress through the annual tests, the department considers the new test results as the baseline for increasing proficiency.
That said, the jump in reading proficiency from 47 percent in 2006 to 60 percent this year and 27 percent to 38 percent in math goes on the books for federal evaluation and the department should be ready to explain the dramatic improvement to lay to rest any questions about the new test.
Board members, who have better access to data and testing materials -- not to mention a responsibility as elected officials -- should be taking a close look at the details of the department's program and standards, which were set by a team of teachers, administrators, parents, the community and University of Hawaii faculty. If they are not satisfied, they should point out the specific problems or questions they have and work to correct them.
They also should hold school officials to making advancements on the new baseline. Though scores have gone up, 60 percent and 38 percent proficiency still falls far short of ideals in public education.