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A Test of Success

Middle School joins three other Molokai schools in meeting state standards

Though this is the first time ever that Molokai Middle School (MMS) has met Hawaii State’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, Principal Gary Davidson said it is the amount of improvement the school’s students have shown this year that is its biggest achievement.

AYP standards, implemented by the national No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, measure participation, proficiency and progress in math and reading. In previous years, MMS has made either the reading or the math section, but never both, which are needed to make AYP. Last year, the students were at 38 percent proficiency in math. This year, they increased their scores by a whopping 27 percentage points, meeting the AYP target –which was 64 percent this year –with 65 percent proficiency. MMS also increased in reading by 15 percent, meeting this year’s AYP target of 72 percent.

“When a school moves five points, it’s a big gain,” said Davidson. “But our gains –I guarantee no other school in the state made those kinds of gains.”

MMS joins Kaunakakai Elementary, Maunaloa Elementary and Kilohana Elementary schools in making AYP standards this year. Molokai High School (MHS) made safe harbor, an evaluation based on 10 percent improvement from non-proficient students in prior years.

Overcoming Challenges
Since the school separated from Molokai High School eight years ago, MMS has experienced less-than-stellar results. The school has been listed under NCLB status levels as “restructuring,” which attaches the most severe sanctions based on the school’s AYP results track record. In order to move up from the “restructuring” level, MMS must meet AYP standards two years in a row.

When Davidson started at MMS in 2011, he noticed that there had been issues with motivating both students and teachers. Having been labeled as a “failing school,” teachers were frustrated with the pressures of meeting seemingly impossible standards, he said. He describes it as having an “adult focus” – or one that focused on what teachers needed – instead of what the students did.

“If I did anything, it was just to shift the focus back to the kids,” said Davidson. “I told them ‘Let’s focus on celebrating student success [instead of] talking about adult needs or problems.’”

He celebrated those successes with treats like pizza or candies every time students did well. When the teachers care, the students care, and when the students care, they’ll do anything you ask them to, said Davidson.

“The principal gets a lot of credit, but it’s not me,” said Davidson. “It’s the students that make the difference.”

Their Methods
How did MMS manage to turn it all around in such a short amount of time? To that, Davidson has a surprisingly simple answer.

“The truth is, we focused on the kids,” he said. “They knew they were important, and that we cared, and then they [started to] care. And they worked hard, honestly. We tested them to death.”

In addition to taking the Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) three times a year, the students at MMS also take a benchmark test every month, administered by EdisonLearning Incorporated, an education management organization for public school in the United States. Davidson said working with Edison has been critical to MMS’s success. Representatives came to MMS twice a month to build relationships with the teachers, share educational knowledge and address any needs that may arise in the classroom.
Also, last year MMS implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLC), a free period on Friday afternoons where teachers were allotted time to meet and talk about individual students’ struggles and needs, according to Davidson. He said these meetings made a huge difference for MMS this year.

The afterschool program, UPLINK, has also played an important part in supporting the students at MMS. UPLINK provides support for students in both character development and academics by providing fun activities.

“Every school is unique, so the solutions we have are unique,” said Davidson. “But if we focus on their kids and celebrate their staff, that is our turnaround formula.”

Statewide Success
MMS joins a statewide trend of landmark improvements this year. According to data released by the Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE), Hawaii’s public school students in every grade increased their scores in both reading and math in 2012. Though more than half of public schools in Hawaii failed to meet AYP this year, seventeen more schools have met the benchmark, compared to last year.

“The remarkable growth in reading and math proficiency for all grade levels is a direct reflection of the hard work of our educators and students,” said DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi in a statement. “Our plan to create systemic change is working. Increasingly, more students in more schools across the state are on the path toward college and career readiness.”

Next year’s national AYP target will be 86 percent in reading and 82 percent in math, with a 100 percent proficiency rate in both by 2013.

Looking Forward
Even with such monumental results, Davidson knows there is always more to be done. He is already brimming with ideas for the upcoming school year.

“In order to get out of that restructuring label…we have to do everything this last year, and more,” said Davidson.

That includes taking initiatives in preparing not only students, but teachers. Davidson has already planned a retreat at the start of the upcoming school year for teachers, staff, parents and students to talk about “school culture.”

Davidson also hopes to involve the students in their own learning more in the upcoming school year, which can range from discussions about what they find important at school to planning what their own celebrations.

Davidson would like to thank the elementary schools who prepare students for MMS, the parents and the community.


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