Hawaii schools
showing big gains

More than half of public schools
meet strict federal criteria

» School standings

More than half of Hawaii's public schools made adequate academic progress last year under strict federal criteria, a big step forward from the previous year when just 39 percent met the mark.

"I'm very, very encouraged, and I'm very thankful that teachers and the principals and the community have made student achievement a priority," Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said yesterday. "We have gotten a whole lot more refined in how we're identifying students with challenges and how we're providing support."

She released the school "report cards" at the Board of Education's meeting at Lanai High and Elementary School. Altogether, 145 out of 280 schools made the grade this year, or 52 percent, up from 109 last year. The results are preliminary, and 24 schools have appealed their cases.

Kalihi-kai Elementary School, where the majority of 720 students are from immigrant families, was one of the schools showing a turnaround this year after having fallen short several times.

"We're planning for a celebration now that the news is public," said Principal Stanley Kayatani, who was at his office yesterday afternoon although his school is closed for fall break. He credited teamwork and an integrated learning system for his students' progress.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act calls for every student to be proficient in English and math by 2014, and states have set annual targets for progress toward that goal. With academic targets set to rise next year, this year's progress might be hard to sustain.

Schools have to meet benchmarks in up to 37 categories to get a passing grade each year. Test results for each school are broken down by ethnic group as well as socioeconomic status, with categories for students who are poor, need special education or speak limited English.

Every group is expected to meet the same proficiency target, and if even one falls short, the entire school fails to make "adequate yearly progress." Also, 95 percent of students in each group must be tested, and graduation and retention rates must meet targets.

Because each state uses its own test and proficiency targets, comparisons among them are invalid. Hawaii students are being measured on their performance on the Hawaii State Assessment, a rigorous test. Unlike traditional multiple-choice exams, it requires students to come up with their own solutions to problems, explain their reasoning and write passages.

This year's benchmarks, however, were relatively low. To make adequate progress, 30 percent of students in each category must be proficient in reading, and 10 percent in math. Next year, those targets will move up to 44 percent in reading and 28 percent in math.

Part of this year's progress can be attributed to a concerted effort to test more students. Last year, Kaiser High School in Hawaii Kai, for example, missed the participation mark because one student didn't take the test. This year, the school remedied that.

Larger schools with more diverse populations must jump through more hoops to make the grade under the law. That is because they are likely to have more students in different categories such as special education or English-language learners. If fewer than 30 students are in any given group, their test scores are not counted in the school calculations since they are not statistically reliable.

Kaiser, a relatively small high school that serves a well-off community, did not have enough students who were economically disadvantaged, in special education or still learning English for their scores to count in the overall grade. On the other hand, Farrington High in Kalihi had sufficient students in all of those categories.

"We worked really hard to get everyone there, and we did," said Farrington Principal Catherine Payne, noting the school met its test participation rate for all groups. "We met it (the academic target) schoolwide in math but not in reading. I think we can push our total school scores up significantly."

But getting new immigrants to pass a high school test outside of their native tongue is daunting.

"They come with varying degrees of literacy in their own language," she said. "It just takes time, and a year or a year and a half isn't going to do it. My concern is labeling these children as failures when they're not."

A series of consequences kicks in each year that schools continue to miss the mark. After two years, students are given the option of transferring to a better-performing school. After three years, tutoring must be offered to low-income students.

In the fourth year, schools are required to take "corrective action," which requires that staff and/or curriculum changes be made, along with the transfer and tutoring options. In the fifth year, schools must plan for "restructuring," including staff and governance changes.

This year, 26 schools, including Kalihi-kai Elementary, are in the planning stage, and 28 are supposed to start restructuring if progress is not made by March 1. Intervention teams are working with the most troubled schools, which are monitored monthly.

Judging by this year's scores, Kayatani is hopeful his students will meet next year's higher targets and that the school will be back in "good standing." But he questions the goal of 100 percent of students in every category being proficient by 2014.

"That to me is unrealistic," he said. "We talk about setting attainable goals. It's very difficult to attain that level of 100 percent."

Results for each school are available at



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