Ready or not?


More Big Island high schoolers are taking Advanced Placement exams, but they’re not scoring as high as in previous years.

Conversely, the rate of students taking the College Board SAT dropped islandwide, although scores improved at most high schools here.

The Department of Education highlighted that data, and more, in its annual College and Career Readiness Indicators report, released Wednesday morning. Statewide, officials noted a 1 percentage point increase in students enrolling in college, a 3 percentage point increase in students taking Advanced Placement exams and a 4 percentage point increase in the number of students taking college-level English and math courses at the University of Hawaii. The numbers of students needing remedial English and math courses upon enrolling in college dropped across the state, to 31 percent and 36 percent respectively, the report said.

Hawaii Island’s 2012 seniors didn’t fare quite as well as their classmates across the state. Konawaena High School was the only one of the island’s nine public high schools that showed drops in both students taking remedial math and English classes. It was also the only school to make any progress in math at all, the report said. Honokaa, Hilo, Keaau and Waiakea high schools all showed decreases in the rates at which students needed remediation in English. Keaau students needed remedial math at the same rate in 2012 as they did in 2011. Kealakehe recorded increases in students needing remediation in both subjects.

Konawaena Principal Shawn Suzuki said his staff has been using similar data to look for ways to improve student achievement.

“I don’t think there is a single thing we are doing,” Suzuki said. “We’re doing what all the schools are doing — it’s about college and career readiness and trying to make that part of the culture of the school.”

A report several years ago prompted Suzuki to take a “hard look” at Konawaena’s enrollment in Algebra II, the minimum math usually needed to enter college. In the last three years, Konawaena has doubled the number of students taking that math course. Suzuki said they achieved that improvement by making sure students had a chance for workshops and support.

“For at least some of them, they’re a lot less afraid to take it knowing they’re going to have an additional period of support,” he added.

He was also pleased with the report noting a slight increase in college enrollment, with 40 percent of students signing up for a two- or four-year college, compared with 38 percent in 2011, and with slightly increased SAT scores in all three exam areas: math, writing and critical reading.

The percentage of students taking the SAT dropped at Honokaa, Kohala, Hilo, Ka‘u, Keaau and Pahoa, and was flat at Kealakehe. Waiakea saw an increase. But at each of those schools except Waiakea and Ka‘u, SAT scores went up, the report said.

Hilo High School Principal Robert Dircks said a variety of factors can influence students’ test scores.

“A lot are experiencing burnout,” he said, referencing the rigorous testing many students undergo.

Trends, he added, can be variable, too.

“You have good years and you have bad years,” he said.

More students at Kealakehe, Honokaa, Kohala, Hilo, Waiakea and Keaau took AP courses in 2012 than in 2011, although the number of students scoring 3 or higher on a scale going up to 5, which is generally considered the minimum to earn college credit for the course, dropped at every school except Kohala. The number of students statewide earning at least a 3 also decreased.

Dircks attributed the higher number of students taking the courses to a statewide push to get more students in those advanced classes.

In addition to Konawaena, college enrollment rates increased 4 percent at Waiakea, 5 percent at Keaau and 3 percent at Pahoa. Rates dropped by 4 percent at Kealakehe, 1 percent at Honokaa, 5 percent at Hilo, 10 percent at Kohala and 3 percent at Ka‘u.

“At most of our schools, children are selecting to go somewhere else initially,” Dircks said. “We still prepare them for the work force.”