State wants pupils judged on ‘growth’
Hawaii education officials are hoping the federal government will finally allow isle schools to be evaluated on individual student progress under the No Child Left Behind law.
The U.S. Education Department announced yesterday it would allow schools in eligible states to be graded on steady student achievement over a period of time through a "growth model." Currently, schools are rated on rigid testing benchmarks for groups of students.
The move to expand growth models, which have been restricted to pilot projects in nine states, came in response to stalled efforts in Congress to rewrite the 5-year-old law.
How progress is measured under the mandate is critical to schools because it determines whether they meet annual goals and avoid penalties.
The current formula requires schools to report, for example, how this year's fifth-graders did compared with last year's fifth-graders in math and reading. The goal is to get all kids working at grade level by 2014.
But some educators say the current format is imprecise because it tracks the progress of groups of students but does not monitor gains by individuals. They also complain schools do not get credit for making big improvements if groups of students still fail to hit testing benchmarks. Educators say that can be a problem when looking at gains made by poor and minority students, who often start out well behind other kids.
The growth model would have schools measure individual student progress, a method Hawaii officials believe could lead to fewer state schools facing federal sanctions.
"The growth model has always been championed as the better alternative," said Glenn Hirata, an evaluation specialist with the state Education Department's Systems Accountability Office.
However, earlier this year, the department had its application to adopt a growth model denied, in part because of concerns by a panel of experts who were unsatisfied with the state's ability to track students, Hirata said.
"Even if a student came in only at kindergarten and then left and came back as a 10th-grader, we must be able to identify that student as a previous student," he said. "What we need is to be better at checking on them frequently."
Currently, 219 public schools -- excluding charters -- are wired into the state's Electronic Student Information System, and the remaining 43 should be added by the summer, said Rodney Moriyama, assistant superintendent in the Information Technology Services office.
Hirata said the Department of Education can track as many as 90 percent of its students.
"It's not easy. When you have 180,000 kids and almost 100,000 of them are being tested, to be able to keep track all of the inactive, active, exits, incoming kids, you've got to be really careful," he said.
Hawaii has 48 schools being restructured for failing to meet annual testing benchmarks in the latest Hawaii State Assessment. In general, 28 percent of a school's students had to meet standards in math this year, and 44 percent in reading standards. In 2008 those requirements rise to 46 percent for math and 58 percent for reading.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.