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Testing Toward Success

Schools look to raise state scores through monthly benchmarks.

Taking tests does not have to be the bane of students’ lives – in fact, a new program on Molokai may show that regular assessment tests can help students learn more efficiently. Most Molokai public school students this year will take monthly benchmark tests in reading and math, as educators attempt to better track their progress and improve their Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) scores.

The benchmarks are the result of a new year-to-year contract with the Hawaii EDISON Alliance, a subgroup of the EdisonLearning company. The Alliance partners with Hawaiian schools struggling to meet national testing standards, and attempts to raise students’ scores through professional development, achievement systems and more, according to its website.

The monthly benchmark tests will be administered through a computer program during 45-minute periods. Once a student scores proficient on the test, he or she is exempted from re-taking the test for the rest of that year. That provides incentive for students to study and exceed on the tests, according to Alliance’s Vice President of Educational Services (VPES) Tom Ekno, who spoke at last week’s Molokai High School Community Council (MHSCC) meeting.

Teachers will be able to login to the computer program and analyze the results in such a way that they can “drill down to specific skills with each specific child,” Ekno said.

Additionally, students will be able to see their scores as soon as they finish the test. Social sciences teacher Laura Buller said the immediacy of the results encourages students to do better.

“They’re way more interested in the test and that’s important. They see improvement and that makes them happy,” she said at the meeting.

“I’m hopeful” that the partnership and benchmarks will improve students’ HSA scores, said Molokai High School (MHS) senior Eescha-Charyya Dudoit-Alapai, the MHSCC student representative. “It’s something to look forward to.”

Partnering Up
On Molokai, all schools will receive weekly support visits from Ekno. MHS and Molokai Middle School will also receive curriculum support from two Alliance directors – one specializing in math, and one in reading – a minimum of four times per month.

During the visits, Alliance staff will host one-on-one coaching sessions with teachers, direct leadership meetings with school staff, assist in the distribution of the benchmark tests, and more.

The directors also plan to provide curriculum support to Kaunakakai, Kilohana and Maunaloa elementary schools as a team, according to EdisonLearning Hawaii Senior Vice President Babette Moreno.

At the MHSCC meeting last week, Moreno said the Alliance team aims to “be here for three years.” In an email, she said their general goals are lowering the number of non-proficient students by 10 percent in each category.

Alliance staff members are currently observing MHS classrooms, Ekno said. Although the observers are not yet interacting with the classes, Dudoit-Alapai said students are taking notice.

Ekno, who is one of the observers, stressed that the Alliance will work in partnership with teachers – not as their managers.

“We’re not here to tell you everything must be done this way,” he told educators during the MHSCC meeting. “There’s a deep rich history at this school that you respect. … What you’ve been doing for three years, five years, 10 years has value. However, schools cannot be stagnant.”

He added: “We ask a lot of questions but we don’t really give a lot of answers, because the answers are gonna come from you folks [the school staff].”

The Stats
Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is a federal measurement mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. In Hawaii, the AYP is measured by the HSA. Students have three chances to pass the HSA each year.

To achieve AYP, HSA standards currently require 72 percent of students score proficient in reading and 64 percent to score proficient in math. Island-wide on the 2011 HSA, students achieved 51 percent reading proficiency and 40 percent math proficiency, according to information provided by the Department of Education. Only two Molokai schools – Kilohana and Maunaloa elementary schools – made AYP last year.

Molokai schools had previously partnered with a different testing-improvement company, ETS, which stands for Educational Testing Service. But as many students continue falling short of HSA proficiency standards – with some schools’ scores even decreasing from year to year – the ETS contract was not renewed.

MHS Principal Stan Hao said that since the start of the school year, MHS has already “seen more of [the Alliance] than we’d seen of ETS all last year.”

Upcoming Schools Meetings
Parents of all students are encouraged to attend a general schools community council meeting Sept. 27 at the Kaunakakai Elementary School cafeteria from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Representatives from each of the schools will discuss HSA test scores, past progress and future plans.

The next MHSCC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. MHSCC meetings are held at the MHS Library and are open to the public.

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