Students try out new math, English assessment


Students at 19 Big Island public schools began participating this week in the field test of a new English and math assessment.

The exam is slated to replace next year the Hawaii Department of Education’s Hawaii State Reading and Mathematics Assessments, which were used in years past to determine, among other things, the adequate yearly progress of individual schools according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In May, the U.S. Department of Education approved Hawaii’s Strive HI Performance System, a redesigned school accountability and improvement system replacing many of the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

“This is a step forward in our plans to raise student achievement,” DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said. “This comprehensive assessment system will provide meaningful information on student progress to educators, parents and the community. Not only will relevant and innovative test items engage and support students, but teachers will also benefit from actionable data and tools to help them maximize the impact of classroom instruction on learning.”

The Smarter Balanced assessments will continue through June 6. They will be administered to students in grades three through eight and 11 at 91 schools across the state. A small sample of students in grades nine and 10 will also take the field test as part of a smaller study, the release stated.

Bob Hill, principal at Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary School in Hilo, said Tuesday that he expects his students will take the exam in late April or early May, after the school’s regular round of Hawaii State Assessment testing.

Hill said he was looking forward to seeing how school proficiency scores will change once the new test begins to be used regularly.

“I hear it will require more of the students in constructing answers with writing. And then there will be a performance assessment happening in the classroom, where they have to complete some sort of problem within the classroom setting,” he said. “I haven’t seen it myself, but from what people are saying, it’s more demanding.”

Hill added that he thinks the new tests will do a better job of placing emphasis on all students.

“The good thing about it is it kind of makes all kids count. If you’re at a high level, you have to keep the high level. If you’re at a lower level, you’ll have to keep improving,” he said.

Steve Hirakami, principal at Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences, disagrees. As a public charter school, HAAS is required to take the assessment, but may use other assessments as it sees fit.

“It’s a nonsensical way of assessing kids,” he said. “It’s really summative. It’s a snapshot test. It measures success, but it’s not formative. You can’t use it to instruct.”

Hirakami said he prefers to use a student assessment by the Northwest Education Agency.

“We chose that through our school improvement plan years ago. This is our seventh year of using it, and it really helps us track student progress. It validates their parents, and gives you examples you can use.”

The Smarter Balanced Assessments are the result of a multistate consortium Hawaii joined to work with teachers, parents and higher education faculty during the past two years. More than 3 million students across the country are participating in the field test “to ensure questions are valid, reliable and fair for all students,” according to a Hawaii Department of Education press release.

Students take the exam online in either English language arts or mathematics, or both. According to the Department of Education, the untimed exams are administered over multiple days. Each subject area is expected to take 2.5 to 4 hours to complete. After the field test of the assessment, students will not receive scores because questions may be revised or dropped before the exams are administered again.

“The field test includes questions with the same features that students will experience in the 2014-15 school year, when Smarter Balanced assessments become operational, including accessibility tools for all students and accommodations — such as Braille — for those who need them,” the release reads. “The work of Smarter Balanced is guided by the belief that a high-quality assessment system can provide information and tools for teachers and schools to improve instruction and held all students succeed — regardless of disability, language, or background.”

The DOE describes the Smarter Balanced Assessment System as a “key component” of the Hawaii State Board and Department of Education’s Strategic Plan to prepare all students for college and career success. The tests are in line with the Hawaii Common Core Standards, “a set of consistent expectations for what students should know and be able to do at each grade in order to graduate equipped with essential critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.”

According to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium website, at smarterbalanced.org, online practice tests were made available in May 2013 for schools to get ready for the field tests, with example test questions for grades three through eight and 11 in both English language arts and math. In January, the consortium posted training tests with additional item types and accessibility and accommodations features.

The practice and training tests are available at smarterbalanced.org/practice-test.

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