National Reports: Hawaii State Assessment Isn’t Tracking With Student Success

Hawaii State Assessment
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Hawaii State Assessment

BY LAURA BROWN – Three hundred Maui’s Baldwin High School 10th grade students — two-thirds of the class – failed their math classes this year.

Teachers say they must deal with few textbooks, no audio visual aids, tests in the auditorium and block scheduling that requires students to complete courses in 70 days instead of a full year.


But the Baldwin High School performance is reflected state-wide, according to statistics.

While the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) struggles to meet federal regulations, Complete College America says less than 2 out of 3 of Hawaii’s students will graduate from high school and only 40 out of 100 graduating students will go on to college.

Only 10 out of each of those 40 students will make it through their freshman year of college. Out of the 100 students, 3 percent will graduate “on time” from a four-year college and 4 percent from community colleges, the report says.

Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that the lost wages of the 6,200 students who did not graduate from Hawaii’s high schools in 2009 equals at least $1.6 billion in lost wages over those students’ lifetimes.

Critics say that while the DOE employs entire divisions to work on paper compliance with federal mandates, resources are being diverted from students.

Hawaii’s grim drop out statistics documented nationally by several education groups isn’t stopping Hawaii Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi from praising Hawaii public school educators.

When the newly-released preliminary results of the Hawaii State Assessment showed student scores increased slightly to 67 percent of 10th graders being “proficient” in English and 49 percent in mathematics, he issued a statement of congratulations.

The increase surprised some in the community since the 2009-2010 school year was 17 days shorter because of public school teacher furloughs.

But what do the scores mean, how were they obtained and measured,  and how do they measure progress? How accurate are the student assessments and what do the scores mean in their real lives?

Editorial Projects in Education Research Center reveals that nearly half of Hawaii’s 13,425 9th graders dropped out of school in 2009.

Hawaii’s high schools also lost 16.7 percent of their students in 10th grade and 34.3 percent in 11th grade.

9th grade scores do not count towards a high school’s Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind — only 10th grade scores are used to represent overall high school student performance.

Critics point out that HSA test scores give the public the perception that all students are making progress towards student proficiency in reading and mathematics; however, thousands of students are actually being left behind or left out.

Massaging Data and Changing the Test to Try, Try Again

Student reading and math scores on the State assessment have steadily climbed under NCLB from 30 percent reading and 10 percent math.

In reality, students were not performing at those low levels, but NCLB rules allowed states to use the worst performing public school as a baseline in the year 2001.

Hawaii DOE’s alternative was to use actual Special Education scores of 6 percent proficiency in reading and 2 percent proficiency in math.

But “proficiency” on the State test is a moving target.

Glenn Nochi, an Evaluation Specialist for the DOE System Evaluation and Reporting Section, says that the DOE is using “cut-scores” that were re-evaluated in 2007 by a group of about 150 people using the “bookmark” method. The bookmark method is based on students’ past performance and the probability that students will answer certain questions correctly.

“The group knew the standards and looked at a sampling of questions from easiest to hardest that reflected the State’s standards. Then they decided where to place the “cut scores” to determine well-below, approaching, meets and exceeds proficiency,” says Nochi.

The DOE is expected to increase AYP every 3 years under NCLB guidelines. The DOE met its first 3-year improvement goal by hiring a new test contractor and changing the test, making scores non-comparable.

For next year the State has hired the American Institute for Research, which will offer an online test with new cut scores. A new contractor also has been hired to provide a new alternative assessment for special education students. The State is expected to use the online test to increase scores to their goal – reading proficiency scores to 72 percent and math scores to 64 percent.

For the new test, students will be allowed to take the test 3 times between October and May, and the school will count only their best score. They will be given as much time as needed to complete the test.

State Scores and National Scores Show Extreme Variation in Public Schools

A breakdown of scores at each school that include all students tested reveals different outcomes than those reported on the Hawaii State Assessment.

For example, during the 2008-2009 school year, Central Middle School 6th grade students scored 45 percent proficient in reading and 33 percent proficient in math on the assessment.

Those scores do not count towards the school’s Adequate Yearly Progress, because scores of students who have not attended a school for a full academic year — from May of the previous year to May of the current year — are not included.

Central Middle 7th and 8th graders also fell far short of the state proficiency objectives, according to their school status and improvement report, but the school’s HSA scores dramatically improved last year to nearly meet the statewide objectives.

Kent Hinton, Test Development & Administrator Specialist for the DOE Student Assessment Section, says the difference is that all students’ scores are reported on the School Status and Improvement Reports, while only “eligible” students under NCLB guidelines are included when determining which schools have met Adequate Yearly Progress goals.

Nationally, the National Assessment of Educational Progress is a standardized test that is administered to 4th graders and 8th graders across the nation.

In 2009, Hawaii’s 4th graders scored 36.7 percent in reading and 25.3 percent in mathematics – far below HSA scores.

Under NCLB, all students must reach 100 percent proficiency levels on the Hawaii Standard Assessment by the 2013 to 2014 school year.

Subgroups in all schools, such as “Disadvantaged, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Special Education and English Language Learners”, scored lower than students overall. White students performed highest at the 79th percentile and Special Education students lowest at the 23rd percentile in reading.

DOE test development and assessment specialists say that it will be impossible for schools to achieve 100 percent proficiency by the 2013-14 school year because the subgroups are performing low.

But the DOE research division guidelines state, “Once the starting points have been established for reading and mathematics, given that the prescribed 2013-14 end-goal is 100 percent proficiency, the determination of annual measurable objectives becomes largely a matter of simple arithmetic.”

Instead of meeting that NCLB mandate, officials hope to receive a Common Core consortium of states national grant to take part in the national Common Core Standard Assessment by 2014, which means that the 100 percent proficiency rule under NCLB will no longer apply for those states that adopt the national assessment.

Laura Brown is a capitol reporter and researcher for Hawaii Reporter. Reach her at





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