A new test and more class time mark new school year


A new test and more class time mark new school year

A federal assessment of students will be given in Department of Education facilities

By Nanea Kalani

A new academic year that includes increased classroom time and assessments on a new national test aligned to more rigorous curriculum standards greets the more than 185,000 isle public school students returning to school Friday.

With a full year of learning under the Common Core standards behind them, students this year will be taking the Smarter Balance Assessment, which replaces the Hawaii State Assessment in English language arts and math for grades 3 to 8 and grade 11.

Hawaii and more than three dozen other states adopted the Common Core—nationally crafted standards laying out what skills students should have by the end of each grade, with the aim of better preparing them for college and careers.

“This is the new base line year—new standards and a new test,” schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in an interview Thursday. “The bar’s higher, so we’re going to see some pretty significant changes.”

She added, “It’s like if you were doing the high jump and you were setting it at 6 feet, and so many kids were making it over. Then you raise it to 7 feet. Less kids made it but they’re still jumping higher. They’re still advancing in what they learn and understand. It’s just a different set of standards and a different kind of test.”

A practice version of the Smarter Balance Assessment will be available beginning in December to give students a chance to familiarize themselves with the format. The test will be required in March, when the results will count.

Teachers locally and nationally have complained that a heavier emphasis on standardized testing forces them to focus more on test preparation.

Stephen Schatz, DOE assistant superintendent for strategic reform, said that shouldn’t be the case.

“When you have high standards in general and you have good instructional strategies, then you’re going to get good results,” Schatz said, adding that the DOE has increased professional development and training to help teachers with the shift in standards. “There’s actually a lot of research that shows teaching to the test really doesn’t work very well, and what works very well in raising achievement is good instruction and high standards. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Those test scores will then be used in part to evaluate teachers and determine whether they are eligible for pay raises and such personnel decisions as tenure or termination.

The DOE rolled out a new teacher evaluation system statewide last school year, with no personnel consequences at stake, but widespread concerns about the amount of time it requires to prepare for and perform the evaluations led to substantial changes for this year.

A joint committee of DOE and Hawaii State Teachers Association (union) officials negotiated 18 changes that will essentially cut in half the workload required this year to complete the annual reviews.

“With teacher evaluations going live, we’ll continue to work through the joint committee to improve the (Educator Effectiveness System) and make sure teachers are given the time, resources and training needed,“said HSTAPresident Wil Okabe. “We still want to look at how the changes are implemented and ensure that it’s going to be fair and reliable.”

With the test results tied to teacher personnel decisions, Okabe said, members are concerned about the length of time it takes for students to complete the new high-stakes assessments.

Based on Smarter Balance field testing, it takes students up to 41/2 hours for the language arts portion of the test, and three to four hours for the math.

Also new this year, higher mandated instructional hours kick in for all secondary schools. Middle and high schools need to provide a minimum 51/2 hours of instruction a day, on average, for a total of 990 hours a year.

The change stems from a 2010 law that lengthened Hawaii’s school year and over time imposes minimum instructional time. Under the law, passed in the wake of Furlough Fridays, all elementary schools since 2012-13 have had to provide at least five hours and five minutes of instruction on average each day for a total of 915 hours a year.

All but two of the state’s 101 middle and high schools statewide are on track to provide the increased hours. (Kailua and Kalaheo high schools have been granted waivers.)

Schools had to overhaul their schedules to comply with the increase without exceeding teachers’ contracted seven-hour workday and other requirements in the labor contract, such as teacher preparation time.

Matayoshi said “it was a real headache” to achieve the 990-hour target.

“Our concern is actually looking beyond this year because there’s another level of minutes,” she said. “We’ve told the Legislature pretty upfront that there isn’t a way to get to that level without additional funding and extending teachers’ workday.”

The law increases the required learning time to an average of at least six hours of instructional time per day for all schools—or 1,080 hours per year—starting with the 2016-17 school year.

HSTAhas argued that instructional hours should be collectively bargained, not mandated by law.

“With the future minimums, we won’t be able to do that in the regular workday,“Okabe said. “If the Legislature wants to fund more compensation, then HSTA would consider that during negotiations.”

This school year also will see the completion of Hawaii’s four-year $75 million Race to the Top grant, which ends with the federal fiscal year in September.

Hawaii won the money in 2010 after pledging sweeping education reforms, including plans to turn around its lowest-performing schools, boost student achievement and improve teacher and principal effectiveness.

Of the dozen 2010 grant winners, Hawaii is the only state that has not requested a so-called no-cost extension—essentially an extra year to meet pledged reforms.

“We started this process looking at sustainability so it wouldn’t become a cliff,“Schatz said of the funding. “It was never intended to be ongoing expenses. It was intended to be catalytic and stand certain things up.”

Matayoshi said schools this year will be able focus on the department’s strategic plan, which incorporates many of the Race reforms.

“This is really a year where we’re saying to schools, ‘No new initiatives. You’ve got lots of stuff on your plate. Let’s take a deep breath and dig in deeper into the work itself,’” she said.