Two Ka‘u schools posted big gains on the Hawaii State Assessment this year, with both schools meeting the adequate yearly progress benchmark for the first time.
Ka‘u High School and Pahala Elementary increased reading scores from 48.3 percent of students meeting proficiency standards in 2011 to 52.2 percent of students this year. In math, 39.1 percent of the K-12 school’s students met proficiency standards, compared with 31.6 percent in 2011.
At Naalehu, one of the gains was even bigger, with 14 percent more students testing proficient in math this year than last year, moving from 32.9 percent to 46.8 percent. The school also made a small gain in reading scores, with 45.4 percent of students reaching the proficiency level this year, compared with 42.3 percent last year.
Ka‘u High School and Pahala Elementary School Principal Sharon Beck said the conversation at the school has shifted to college and career readiness, with students comparing which advanced placement and other academically rigorous classes they are taking.
“It’s a lot about being focused,” Beck said. “It’s a lot about teachers working together, figuring out what’s best for our students.”
Alumni returning to the school also encourage students, Beck said.
“It’s nice to see alumni come back and say you can do this,” she said.
She noted the school’s scores are in the “safe harbor” measure, which is not the full adequate yearly progress benchmark, but one put in place for schools undergoing supervision in working on improving scores.
“We’re going to continue to grow,” she said.
Messages left for Darlene Javar, Naalehu’s principal, and Complex Area Superintendent Mary Correa were not returned Monday.
Correa, in a written statement issued Monday morning, credited School Improvement Grants for the improvements.
The grants “played an important role in transformation efforts occurring in our complex area schools,” she said. “We are seeing positive results and groundbreaking changes that are real, substantive and sustainable in the Zones of School Innovation.”
School Improvement Grants and the Zones of School Innovation are two tools the Hawaii Department of Education put into place after the federal government selected the state as a Race to the Top participant. The federal program promised Hawaii $75 million in 2010, in exchange for the statewide department taking on significant changes to how students learn and how teachers are evaluated, among other tasks. The schools in Ka‘u were targeted as a Zone of School Innovation for having consistently low test scores and annual failure to meet the adequate yearly progress standards.
The schools were already taking some steps to turn around test scores. According to 2011 Accountability Resource Center Hawaii reports, the schools had been seeing gains for several years.
Naalehu officials decided in 2011 to restructure intervention time for students in need of extra instruction, so staff decreased meeting time to have more time for students, the report said.
“When we looked at the needs of our students, it became obvious there was not enough intervention time built into the daily schedule,” the report said. “We also took great measures to make sure that our most highly qualified teachers were the ones working with the students during these times.”
Ka‘u High School increased partnerships with Hawaii Community College and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and received grants to fund art instruction and upgrade the school’s science laboratory, the report said.
“Our school’s progress is also evident in the growth of the number of students going on to college and participating on various academic teams,” the report said. “Seventy-four percent of our 2011 graduates were accepted to a post-secondary institution compared to 68 percent in 2010. For four consecutive years, our World Quest Team has placed first islandwide. During the 2010-2011 school year, six teams participated in the Science Fair and all teams received awards.”
Hilo Intermediate School, which is another School Improvement Grant participant, also met adequate yearly progress this year, posting gains in reading and math. This is the school’s second year meeting the progress measures. Keonepoko Elementary in Pahoa also met the progress measures for the first time this year.