Most Hawaii public high schools fail under No Child Left Behind
By Loren Moreno
Most Hawai'i public high schools failed to meet expectations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, leaving education officials speculating about the unique challenges that secondary schools face.
Thirty-seven of the 42 public high schools statewide ΓΆ€” 88 percent ΓΆ€” did not make "adequate yearly progress" this year. And with 30 high schools currently in "restructuring" ΓΆ€” meaning they haven't made their goals in at least six years ΓΆ€” many principals are concerned about what appears to be an alarming trend.
"Everyone is struggling," said Alvin Nagasako, principal of Kapolei High School, which didn't meet its mandated goals this year. "We have very unrealistic goals, especially when it comes to our special-needs populations."
State Department of Education officials say it is difficult to pinpoint any one factor that has prevented many high schools from achieving the No Child Left Behind goals. But they also acknowledge that it is a trend that needs to be investigated.
"If you look at the data, the secondary schools seem to be in sanction more than the elementary schools," said Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support.
"From our standpoint, we're looking at what are the patterns so that we can begin to address the gaps."
According to statewide testing results released last week, 60 percent of public schools did not achieve annual goals under No Child Left Behind. That's up from only 35 percent last year. Education officials attributed the spike to higher benchmarks set this year.
While schools in general appear to be struggling under NCLB, high schools in particular seem to be grappling with the federal law's list of expectations ΓΆ€” from participation rate on the state test to graduation rate to reading and math proficiency.
School officials say a number of factors may play a role in how well schools are doing, including student apathy and the large populations of special-needs students on the high school level.
Nagasako said economic status also plays a role in the performance of a school under NCLB testing.
"The schools with pretty good ZIP codes, they do pretty well on the test," he said.
And the data appears to support that argument.
For instance, 60 percent of Honolulu district schools achieved adequate yearly progress goals this year. That compares with less than 30 percent of Leeward district schools or only 13 percent of Maui district schools.
Nagasako said rural and Neighbor Island schools have a harder time recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers.
"I suspect that the schools that have the least amount of turnover, have better test scores," he said.
That's one reason why state education officials are pushing national education officials to adopt a "growth model." A growth model, as opposed to the current NCLB system, would acknowledge the progress a school is making rather than setting standard goals.
"Then at least schools that are at a disadvantage with respect to socioeconomic status, where they simply cannot make these ever-increasing measurable objectives, at least they can show there is improvement," said Glenn Hirata, head of the DOE's system evaluation and reporting section.
The No Child Left Behind law requires that each significant subgroup of students ΓΆ€” from specific ethnicities, to various income levels, to English Language Learners to special-needs students ΓΆ€” must meet the targets or else the school does not make its goal. Under the "all or nothing" approach, if one subgroup fails, the school does not make "adequate yearly progress."
In addition to achieving proficiency in math and reading, each subgroup must also meet specific participation and graduation requirements.
"They're facing a triple threat," Hirata said.
He also noted that high schools have a broader range of students, meaning that more subgroups of students are counted toward their NCLB results.
"The high schools are large schools, so they have far more (student subgroups) than elementary schools," Hirata said.
If one of those groups fails to achieve the benchmarks, the whole school fails, he said.
On the high school level, only 10th-graders take the Hawaii State Assessment, which helps determine a school's adequate yearly progress status.
One reason high schools are performing worse than elementary schools is that they have a more diverse population, which means more subgroups which could trip up the whole school.
"Because high schools are bigger, by the time the total population comes up to the high school level, more of the targeted populations are included in your results," said Carlyn Fujimoto, principal of Pearl City High.
For high schools, it appears that it's the students with special needs or English-language learners that are not achieving the benchmarks, education officials said.
At smaller elementary schools, because special-needs populations also tend to be small, those results don't count against a school. But because those populations tend to be larger on the high school level, they do.
"For Pearl City High, based on growth, we've done really well. However, we need to now focus more efforts on helping the special-needs populations," Fujimoto said.
Pearl City High is in restructuring, the severest sanction under No Child Left Behind that can be levied against a school that has not achieved its adequate yearly progress goal for at least six years.
Academically, high schools are unique, Fujimoto said.
For instance, the Hawaii State Assessment measures a 10th-grader's knowledge of math and reading. But on the high school level, reading is not a subject taught in classes as it is in lower grade levels.
The challenge for high schools is to get math, science and social studies teachers to address reading and comprehension in their classes.
"Many secondary teachers are not trained in how to do reading strategies with high school students," Fujimoto said.
Schools must have a 95 percent participation rate in the standard test to make their adequate yearly progress goal. If participation in the test falls below that rate, a school fails.
For instance, at Farrington High School, participation was below the 95 percent mark.
Officials note that on the elementary school level, participation is easier to achieve. But it's on the high school level where schools tend to have a problem achieving the necessary participation rate.
"In the 10th grade, the students know that the (Hawaii State Assessment) doesn't impact their grades, colleges don't ask for their scores. They figure it's not that important," said Cara Ta-nimura, head of DOE's system planning and improvement section.
DOE officials say the challenge for principals is to communicate the message to its students that the test matters.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES