State leaves fewer students behind


POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

Public school students performed better on the Hawaii State Assessment again this year, moving up another few percentage points in reading and math, but it was not enough to meet the requirements of federal law.

Statewide, 65 percent of students across all grade levels were ranked proficient in reading, up from 62 percent last year, officials announced yesterday. Math scores continued to trail reading, with just 44 percent proficient in math, up from 42 percent last year.

“;Math is an area we know we need to focus on,”; said Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support. “;We need to beef it up.”;

Altogether, more than 92,000 students took the Hawaii State Assessment this past April in grades three through eight, plus 10th grade. Scores rose at every grade level in reading and almost every grade level in math, but fewer schools managed to meet the various requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Only 97 of Hawaii's 284 schools made “;adequate yearly progress,”; according to preliminary results presented to the state Board of Education yesterday. As a result, the number ranked as “;in good standing”; fell to 48 percent, down from 56 percent last year.

Schools must meet up to 37 different benchmarks to make “;adequate yearly progress.”; It's all or nothing. Special-education students, low-income kids, English-language learners and all ethnic groups must meet the same targets, which were 58 percent proficient in reading and 46 proficient in math. Schools must also test 95 percent of each subgroup and meet graduation or retention goals.

There were lots of close calls. Forty-seven schools missed just one benchmark. In most of those cases, the shortcoming was the math performance of economically disadvantaged students. Another 40 schools missed only two benchmarks.

“;What this tells us is that the schools are working very hard,”; said Cara Tanimura, director of the systems accountability office.

Tenth-graders had the best performance in reading of any grade level this year, with 73 percent proficient, up from 67 percent last year. But math performance among sophomores remained dismal at 34 percent proficient, the same as last year and the lowest of any grade level.

“;One of our issues is that when a student gets behind in math, because it's so sequential, the train keeps going, it doesn't stop,”; Kaiser High School Principal John Sosa said. “;The kid has a hard time getting back on.”;

Kaiser met all the targets for “;adequate yearly progress”; this year, after missing one in math last year. It did quarterly assessments to reveal which students were struggling, and teachers volunteered their time to tutor them. It also used an accelerated math program, but it is costly and Sosa expressed concern about budget cuts.

“;The math department's budget has gone from $16,000 or $18,000 a year down to $5,000”; over the last four years, he said. “;You can't continue to do that.”;

;[Preview]  DOE Releases Results For Hawaii State Assessment

Hawaii school officials say “;meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law”; is an uphill battle.

Watch ]


Math scores statewide were highest in fourth grade, with 50 percent proficient. Seventh-graders made the biggest gain in that subject, with 47 percent proficient, up from 40 percent last year.

Niu Valley Middle School had good scores overall, at 77 percent proficiency in reading and 52 percent in math. But the school failed to make “;adequate yearly progress”; because not enough of its special-education students were ranked proficient on the test.

The larger the school, the more hurdles it has to meet. That is because if there are not enough members of a particular subgroup, their scores are withheld for privacy reasons and do not count against the school.

Campbell High, one of the state's largest schools, was one of four high schools that made “;adequate yearly progress”; this year. Last year it failed to do so because two students in special education fell short, according to Principal Gail Awakuni. This year there were fewer special-education students, and their scores did not factor into the school's ranking.

Schools that miss the mark face sanctions. To get back in “;good standing,”; they must make “;adequate yearly progress”; two years in a row. Kailua Intermediate was one of just two schools that managed to do that and return to “;good standing.”;

“;We've worked so hard,”; Principal Suzanne Mulcahy said. “;I'm so thrilled….We saved the state $400,000 because we didn't bring in one of those outside companies.”;

Kailua offered a rigorous curriculum for everyone, from special education to the gifted students, mandatory study hall for struggling students, the incentive of “;fun homerooms”; and teacher collaboration. It refused to sacrifice electives, such as band and shop.

“;I have some kids that if all they had were the three R's ... they wouldn't like school anymore,”; she said.