Immersion school
tests planned

Hawaiian-language versions
of state assessment tests
will be given in 2004

By Treena Shapiro

The state is developing Hawaiian-language versions of the state assessment tests for third- and fourth-graders at Hawaiian immersion schools.

The move will help the state comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires testing in grades three to eight.

The immersion programs teach Hawaiian as the primary language and don't formally introduce English until the fifth grade, so in the past standardized tests weren't given until the eighth grade.

However, the new federal law does not allow for exemptions to the statewide standardized testing, which will be used as the basis for sanctions at schools that fail to show progress toward meeting the state standards.

The state was recently advised by the federal government that the law does not stipulate that the tests be given in English, according to Mike Heim, director of the Department of Education planning and evaluation branch.

Puanani Wilhelm, a specialist with the DOE Hawaiian Studies and Language Program, said the state was already in the process of making a Hawaiian version of the test when the federal law went into effect.

She said testing with the Hawaiian version of the math and reading tests should start in the spring of 2004.

The tests will parallel the state standards assessment, but will not be direct translations, she said.

Hawaiian immersion students will begin taking the English version of test in the fifth grade, the same year they begin learning formal English in the classroom. Wilhelm said the results will provide valuable information, such as "the answer to whether or not Hawaiian immersion students are gaining the same skills as other students."

That may not help the schools that will be sanctioned under the new law, since the scores will be used as an indicator of the school's performance. Sanctions range from offering parents the opportunity to transfer their children to another school to restructuring the school.

Charles Naumu, principal of Anuenue School in Palolo Valley, told the Board of Education committee on special programs yesterday that he didn't expect that students would meet the English speaking standards in the early grades, "but given time, we will."

He said he was open to trying the Hawaiian versions of the test.

Anuenue sixth-grader Naalehu Tolentino testified in both English and Hawaiian on behalf of her school.

Board Chairman Herbert Watanabe pointed to Tolentino as evidence that the immersion school is doing a fantastic job.

"This child said she went to Anuenue from kindergarten, she started learning Hawaiian only, she reads this at sixth grade, she reads a heck of a lot better than other kids I know who learned English from kindergarten."

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