# Parents call state math

test too hard

## Some say requiring students to

explain their calculations results

in low scores

SECOND OF TWO PARTS

Maureen Goo's kids do well in math, but she is perplexed by the way the state tests them in the subject, and wonders if it is pulling down Hawaii's test scores.

She is not alone. As public school students begin taking the Hawaii State Assessment this month, some educators and parents are raising concerns about the math part of the test, which has stumped many students - even some who aced the national math SAT, or Stanford Achievement Test.

Numbers, like music, are considered a universal language. Typically, students who are still learning English, for example, can excel on traditional math tests. But the math part of the Hawaii State Assessment goes far beyond calculating figures. It requires students to explain in writing how and why they came up with their solutions.

"Math used to be straightforward - this is the answer - there was no subjective part of that," said Goo, whose fourth-grader came home from Lanakila Elementary exclaiming over how much she had to write on her math test.

"I'm not really sure what they're trying to measure, when they already have separate writing and reading components on the test," Goo said. "Why incorporate writing into math, which could then pull down the math score? Especially for the ESL (English as a second language) students, it just doesn't seem fair to have a written component in math."

Last year, for example, 37 percent of Hawaii's fifth-graders scored above average on the national math SAT. That compares favorably with the national norm of 23 percent of U.S. students scoring above average.

But SAT scores are not the standard used to judge school performance under the No Child Left Behind Act. What counts is the Hawaii State Assessment. And on that test, just 23 percent - not 37 percent - of Hawaii's fifth-graders were ranked proficient in math.

Selvin Chin-Chance, head of the Test Development Section of the Hawaii Department of Education, notes that the two tests differ substantially. The SAT is exclusively multiple choice; the HSA relies heavily on open-ended questions, with students producing their own answers. SAT covers primarily basic skills, he said, while the HSA covers higher-order math and problem-solving.

"There are significant differences between the two tests, so it's not surprising that you do find differences in the scores of the same student at times," Chin-Chance said.

The math SAT is actually embedded within the Hawaii State Assessment, but the two tests are scored separately - and differently. The SAT measures how well a student did in relation with other students, using a percentile ranking, while the HSA gauges whether students met standards for proficiency in a subject. On the HSA, students are ranked as "well below," "approaches," "meets" or "exceeds" standards.

Goo's son, a seventh-grader, scored in the 98th percentile on his last math SAT, which means just 2 percent of students nationwide placed higher. On the Hawaii State Assessment, he was ranked as "meeting" standards but not "exceeding" them.

"The 98th percentile is just 'meeting' the standards?" his mother asked. "It's not really a big deal for me because he met it. It's more a concern for parents whose kids don't meet it on the HSA, and yet on the SAT they score in the 70th percentile or above."

That is a problem that has vexed Curtis Young, principal of Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu, whose students have had just that experience - including a third-grader who scored in the 80th percentile nationally but did not meet Hawaii's standards.

"That's a pretty high target, and that's where I think schools are struggling in math," he said. "It's the high proficiency level and the fact that the kids really need to explain their answers. They may know the answer to the problem, but the minute they have to explain it in writing, that's where they may have difficulty."

Statewide, roughly twice as many students were ranked proficient on the reading

portion of the HSA as on the math portion last year. That ratio held through all grade levels tested - 3, 5, 8 and 10.

The tenth-grade Hawaii State Assessment in math has also sparked complaints because its content goes beyond the grade level of those being tested. It includes Algebra II & Trigonometry and pre-calculus, which many students do not reach until their junior and senior years. Unfamiliar turf like that can discourage a test taker.

"Most of the sophomores at our school are not at the level of Algebra II," said Janis Maki, math department chairwoman for Waipahu High School. "If students are expected to meet the standards, the test should be more appropriate to the level of math they're taking in tenth grade."

Assistant Superintendent Kathy Kawaguchi said the department has been refining the state's standards to specify the essentials that must be taught at each grade level. It has hired McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) of Aurora, Colo., to compare the new Hawaii "essential standards" with the best state and national standards, and recommend revisions if necessary, she said.

The current test was based on old Hawaii math standards that encompassed all of high school. A new version of the 10th-grade math test is expected in two years that will reflect that grade-by-grade breakdown, covering content only through Algebra I, she said.

Every state has developed its own test to comply with the No Child Left Behind law, but the tests differ substantially, with Hawaii's considered rigorous. Changes in any of the tests must be approved by the federal government.

Kawaguchi said the department is also discussing whether there should be fewer open-ended questions on the Hawaii State Assessment in math. But she described them as an important measure of ability that belongs on the test.

"The goal of education is to make sure our students can think critically and problem-solve, and also to clearly communicate their thoughts," she said. "It seems to me that these are the kinds of tools that our students need to have now, because we're not putting them on an assembly line to do mindless work."

Susan Hirokane, principal of Pearl City Elementary School, said the new approach to math is challenging both teachers and students, but she feels it is worthwhile.

"The problem-solving and inquiry-based methods we are teaching are a different approach from the calculation that was done in the past," she said. "We've upped the ante, and the children really have to think. I think we're moving in the right direction. The kids are rising up to it."