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Hawaii students fall short in new assessment tests

Updated: 
September 16, 2015 - 1:30am

Less than half of the state’s keiki are currently making the grade in English and mathematics, according to new public school assessment scores.

The Hawaii Department of Education reported Tuesday afternoon that 48 percent of third- through 11th-graders met or exceeded standardized test benchmarks in English language arts, and 41 percent did the same in math.

The scores represent the results of a new assessment, touted as more rigorous by public schools officials. Known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the new test is aligned to the Hawaii Common Core standards, replacing the Hawaii State Assessment.

The results released Tuesday were from the first exam administered to students in the spring semester of 2015.

“These first year results show promise and will serve as a baseline for future student achievement,” said Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “Test scores show we’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the right track for all students to be college and career-ready. This test was more difficult, and the results also tell us that our educators have worked hard to shift their teaching towards higher standards. We hope to build on our momentum each year to ensure that our students are prepared for college and community life.”

Hawaii is one of 22 states that have administered the assessment to students, and a total of 11, including Hawaii, have now released their state scores. A press release issued by the DOE on Tuesday afternoon provided a comparison of Hawaii’s grade 4 students with the results achieved in the other 10 states.

In math, Hawaii took fourth place, achieving a lower score than Delaware, Missouri and Washington. In English, Hawaii didn’t fare as well, taking seventh place, with a lower score than Oregon, Vermont, Delaware, Connecticut, Washington and Missouri.

Hawaii fourth-graders beat California, West Virginia, Idaho and Maine in both English and math assessments. The DOE did not provide national comparisons in other grade levels.

Among all Hawaii’s students, fifth-graders achieved the highest results in English language arts, with 54 percent meeting or exceeding benchmarks. Meanwhile, third-graders put up the highest numbers in math, with 50 percent meeting or exceeding standards.

The lowest scores in the state were among seventh-graders in English language arts, with 44 percent achieving the standard, while 11th-graders made the lowest scores in math, with only 30 percent achieving the standards.

Following a presentation about Hawaii’s scores during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii County BOE member and Vice Chairman Brian De Lima said he saw a lot to be proud of in the assessments.

“I think the results are very positive, because it’s comparing our students with other students from other states, and our students are all in the middle or exceeding other states,” he said. “The bars are the same, the rigor is the same, and our students are able to achieve positive results.

“So the takeaway is there are 22 Smarter Balanced states. Eleven states have released their results, and Hawaii students are performing as well as their peers in other states. I think it’s a positive message. I think we can continue to build on that message. It shows that the hard work that is occurring is producing results.”

He added that the fact that other states haven’t released their results could be because of concern about low scores.

“It’s pure speculation on my part, but they’re probably trying to determine how to deal with it. … I’m glad that our students are performing as well as their peers in other states,” De Lima said.

Not everyone on the board agreed, however.

“Those numbers are pretty concerning, right?” said Honolulu BOE member Amy Asselbaye. “They’re all below 50 percent. … Only 50 percent of our kids are proficient in the Smarter Balanced Assessment of mathematics and English language arts literacy.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.