Middle-school education needs more attention
Public school students are generally doing better in math, but reading scores of eighth-graders have stagnated.
RESULTS of a national exam contained mixed tidings for Hawaii public schools
with improvements generally conforming with better scores in a new state test, but showing students still falling below national averages.
Moreover, flattening improvements in reading scores among eighth-grade students attest to the need for more attention in middle schools; their scores nationwide have been about the same as they were in 1998.
Hawaii fourth-graders fared better in the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress, improving math scores to 234 from 230 in 2005, and to 213 from 210 in reading. Those marks put 33 percent of them under the math-proficient column, up from 27 percent two years ago. In reading, 26 percent were proficient, compared to 23 percent in 2005. However, both marks missed the national averages of 39 percent in math and 32 percent in reading.
For eighth-graders, average math scores were up just 3 points from 2005, with only 21 percent reaching proficiency, compared to 31 percent nationwide. But it is in reading that improvements have stagnated among Hawaii students, somewhat in keeping with declines seen nationwide.
As Congress debates changes in the federal No Child Left Behind law, the need to focus on middle-school children should be front and center. Some educators say adjustments in reading curricula to more closely reflect interests of adolescents and an increase in use of technology could help, but schools lack sufficient funding for new materials and equipment, such as computers.
Federal dollars have never matched the promises made when the No Child Left Behind act was approved, a correction Congress needs to make, even as other funding priorities, particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continue the drag on spending.
According to a bipartisan NCLB commission, the federal government needs to come up with $100 million alone just to help schools track student performance effectively. As matters now stand, school systems are generally free to create tests and benchmarks as they see fit, which calls into question their data on improvement, the basis for sanctions under the law.
Such is the case in Hawaii, when some members of the state Board of Education became skeptical of the results of a new test administered this year. Marked improvements in the percentages of students who achieved proficiency -- 60 percent from 47 percent in reading and 38 percent from 27 percent in math -- had board members thinking the test had been made easier.
The Department of Education asked the board to withhold judgment until scores from the NAEP, called the nation's report card, were released. That those scores paralleled improvements in the state's test might quell the criticism, but the NAEP scores also show the school system still has far to go on the path to student proficiency.