Isle students' scores track nation's


POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hawaii's public schools followed general achievement trends across the country in 2007-2008 with higher reading and math test scores from third to 10th grades—with one exception.

;  The number of fifth-graders who scored at the proficient level on the state reading test dropped to 57 percent from 60 percent, according to the Center on Education Policy.

“;We don't really know what this is attributed to,”; said Cara Tanimura, Department of Education Systems Accountability Office director. “;We are looking at it and monitoring it. Hopefully, it is not a trend and will go back up.”;

The nonprofit Center on Education Policy, an advocacy organization for public schools, today releases its third evaluation of student performance based on test data in all 50 states.

Jack Jennings, center president and chief executive officer, highlighted two conclusions in a conference call yesterday:

» “;Student achievement in reading and math generally increased across the board since 2002 (when the No Child Left Behind Act took effect).”;

» There is “;no persuasive evidence”; that emphasis on proficiency has harmed higher- or lower-achieving students, he said.

“;If accountability policies were indeed shortchanging high and low-achieving students, we would expect to see stagnation or decline at the basic and advanced levels,”; he said. “;Instead, the percentages of students scoring at the basic-and-above and advanced levels have increased much more often than they have decreased, especially in the lower grades.”;

More gains were made in math than in reading. And elementary and middle schools showed more improvement than high schools, the center reported.

Only two years of comparable data were available for Hawaii because the Department of Education started a new testing system in 2007 so trends couldn't be identified in student achievement, Jennings said. However, if increased scores from 2007 to 2008 continue, Hawaii “;is moving in the right direction,”; he said.

Tanimura said fifth-graders “;got squeezed both ways,”; with some test scores going up and others going down. Fifth grade is the highest grade level at many schools, she noted. “;Maybe they have senioritis, but not quite as much.”;

She said the overall improvements in math and reading reflect the department's “;very vigorous standards and benchmarks,”; adding, “;We had them even before No Child Left Behind. It's a credit to our department and our superintendent that we have high expectations of students.

“;We're looking forward to 2009 results,”; Tanimura said.

Jennings noted several possible explanations for the upward trends. “;The most hopeful explanation is that students are learning more and consequently are performing better on state tests. There is probably also a cumulative effect of test-focused instruction at work,”; he said.

Another possible explanation is that more instructional time and effort are being directed toward reading and math, he said.

The No Child Left Behind Act possibly gave “;extra oomph”; to academic improvements because of penalties, Jennings said. But he attributes the improvements to 20 years of “;accumulated efforts”; at the federal, state and local levels to improve test scores.

However, the study exposed a “;national problem,”; Jennings said, explaining elementary and middle schools are making progress but “;high school is hitting real obstacles.”; High schools are making more achievement gains than declines but margins are smaller, he said.

Among possible reasons, the researchers said, high schools receive fewer federal resources, high school students are subject to more outside influences and less motivated to do well and high school course content may be less matched to test material.