Friday, December 17, 1999



Ed board
heartened by isle
test scores

Stanford Achievement Test
results show marked
improvement in reading

How they fared

By Crystal Kua


After years of dismal results, education officials see hopeful signs for Hawaii public schools in the latest standardized test scores.

"We've been beaten down so much we can't believe it," said state Board of Education First Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen.

Added state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu, "We have every reason to be encouraged but not satisfied,"

While most agreed that the Stanford Achievement Test results released yesterday appear favorable, they tempered their enthusiasm by pointing out that the test taken last spring was different in several ways than the ones taken previously.

From 1992-1998, the eighth edition of the SAT was used, but students this year took the ninth edition.

About the scores

The spring 1999 Stanford Achievement Test was taken by students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9. Included in the test was a new section called open-ended reading, in which students answered questions using their own words. The math and reading portions used the traditional, multiple-choice format.

Following is a look at how students fared, in percentage of students at each school taking the test.

Results in brief

Complete SAT scores online
searchable database

Previously, students in grades 3, 6, 8 and 10 were tested. This year, the test was given to students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9.

And this was the first year students were given an open-ended reading test, which required them to read a passage and answer questions in their own handwriting based on what they read. Only multiple-choice questions were asked before.

LeMahieu said that when a new test is given, scores tend to decline. But they didn't. "We held our own or actually improved," he said.

He was gratified by the results of the open-ended questions because the test required students to have a greater level of reading comprehension.

In math, 78 percent of ninth-graders scored average or above, better than the national norm of 77 percent. The percentage of students who scored average or above in the other grade levels was slightly below the national norm.

In reading, the percentage of students who scored average or above fell below the national norm in all grade levels.

But the open-ended results were better: The percentage of third- and fifth-graders scoring average or above was well above the national norm.

Because of the changes, third-grade math and reading scores are the only ones that can be compared directly to previous scores. Reading scores showed improvement, while there was little change in math.

The Department of Education's point man on tests said the results show that schools have made a concerted effort to improve scores and that students were better prepared to take the tests.

"Generally, they performed quite well but there's still room for improvement," Selvin Chin-Chance said.

Chin-Chance said schools may be paying more attention to the Board of Education's focus on literacy programs. "Literacy is fundamental."

"I think that's the key," Knudsen agreed.

Chin-Chance said because students did well in the open-ended reading test, he predicts better results in other tests that use open-ended questions. Among them are the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in which Hawaii has not done well in the past, and the new standards-based assessment under development.

"I think we're going to see improvements," he said.

Because schools were notified of the change in the SAT editions and were told of the inclusion of the open-ended questions, that led to changes in teaching and better preparation for test-taking.

LeMahieu said the results are the early stages of some real momentum. "This is certainly the first sign of some hard work at the schools."

In his tour of schools and talks with teachers, administrators and others, LeMahieu said he finds the school system is better focused. "Standards are more visible in the classroom, and people are talking more about standards."

"Teachers appreciate having the whole of the system interested in the same things they're interested in," he said.

The next step is to maintain the focus, support access to high-quality teaching materials and invest in people and skills through professional development of teachers and administrators, LeMahieu said.

"We're stemming the tide," Knudsen said. "I think we have a lot to be proud of."

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