Friday, June 22, 2001

Fewer students
taking Hawaiian

Students in the program
dipped for the first time
since it began in 1987

By Crystal Kua

For the first time, the number of students enrolled in the state's Hawaiian Language Immersion Program has declined.

Enrollment decreased 4 percent to 1,646 in the 2000-2001 school year from 1,717 the previous year, according to a state Board of Education audit.

Enrollment is also less than the projections made in the program's 1998 Operational and Financial Plan, the audit said.

Board program auditor Daniel Shimizu said he believes it is the first time enrollment has decreased since the program began in 1987.

Responding to the audit, the state Department of Education said enrollment has come in below the minimum target of 25 kindergarten students set by the operational plan. The program has also typically lost students in the upper grades, particularly in the transition from elementary to middle school, the department said.

In the program, which is in 18 public schools statewide, lessons are primarily taught in the Hawaiian language.

Both the audit and the department's response gave mixed grades when assessing the program's effectiveness.

The audit said there is insufficient data to determine if the program goals are being met.

The audit found, however, that a higher percentage of seventh graders at Kula Kaiapuni O Anuenue, the immersion school in Palolo, scored below average in a 1999 standardized reading test than did Oahu seventh-graders as a whole.

In math, the percentage of immersion seventh-graders and Oahu seventh-graders as a whole who scored below average was about the same.

In its response, the department said it is not fair to compare the program as a whole based on test results of 24 Anuenue students. Many students with higher test scores typically leave the program after the sixth grade.

State schools chief Paul LeMahieu said work is underway to develop tests to fairly gauge academic proficiency of immersion students. The last time the program was evaluated was during 1995-96.

But the Anuenue principal said the school's success can be found in the six-year accreditation recently granted by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges

"It's something different when a third party -- experts in the field -- say the program is good," Charles Naumu said.

Board member Meyer Ueoka said the recent publicity over the increasing number of extinct languages shows the need for preserving the language.

"When we're in a survival mode, sometimes things may not go the way we want them to go, but it's important. (Survival of the language) is vital for Hawaii and the people of Hawaii," Naumu said.

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