Students test to see if anyone left behind

April is the month schools test for student proficiency through state mandated assessment tests.

“We will do whatever we can to make our kids proficient,” said Kapa‘a High School Principal Gilmore Youn.

Students will be taking this year’s Hawai’i State Assessment during the month of April. The No Child Left Behind legislation has brought high-stakes testing to the forefront with benchmarks that schools must reach or face consequences.

“Kapa’a High School is a model school in how to prepare students for the HSA,” said April Shigemoto, state assessment liaison.

“We’re not here to live for a high-stakes summative assessment at the end of the year,” said core curriculum resource teacher Dominic Beralas, “but the test does reveal whether we are doing a good job of providing our students with standards-based instruction.”

The math proficiency score of 13 percent suggested a disconnect between what was happening in the classroom and what the test was revealing, said Beralas. Math course grades indicated scores should be higher on the HSA.

Analysis and discussion facilitated by the school’s leadership team resulted in strategies that began to be implemented at the beginning of the school year.

“In preparing for the HSA, we are not teaching to the test as much as being faithful in the state’s requirement to provide standards-based instruction,” Beralas said.

That translated into teaching for depth of understanding rather than coverage of content. Instead of mechanical or rote learning, enduring understanding of “big ideas” or “essential questions” became the goal.

Teacher Learning Communities began to talk about integrating language arts and math standards into other subject or content areas.

Shigemoto said that empowering teachers to get involved is one of the reasons Kapa‘a High is a model school.

TLC’s were created about four years ago. Because of a Memorandum of Understanding with the teachers’ union, teachers were able to vote to extend hours on two days of each week in order to create collaboration time in exchange for early release on two other days of each week.

The state Department of Education requires quarterly assessment reports. Kapa’a High uses an assessment called “Benchmark Tracker,” which is aligned with Hawai‘i Content and Performance Standards III.

The “Benchmark Tracker” assessment includes selected response questions (multiple choice) and constructed response questions (written responses).

Through a study of “Benchmark Tracker” results, teachers came to the realization that some of the test errors were based on reading comprehension errors, Beralas said.

As a result, there is a school-wide effort to help students understand prefixes. Knowing the meaning of word parts helps students unlock the meaning of the word.

Another school-wide strategy is giving students more practice in doing constructed responses. Many students were leaving those questions blank.

“Constructed response-type questions are more challenging than multiple choice questions,” Beralas said. “Students have to synthesize knowledge; they have to demonstrate that they can transfer learning to novel situations.”

As the SAL, Shigemoto was brought in to help teachers create constructed response questions for their own assessments and to share strategies on how teachers could instruct students to respond appropriately.

Youn said all the focus has been on instructional interventions.

Behavior and attitude were left up to the student support coordinator and the positive behavior support system, but they began to realize that they go together.

“If students are not ready to learn because they have behavior, attitude or drug problems, I don’t care what kind of instructional interventions you use, it’s not going to happen,” Youn said.

Kapa’a High is the first secondary school in the state to have a General Learner Outcome report card.

The six GLO’s are essential goals for all grade levels and all academic disciplines and appear on the elementary school report cards. Revised secondary report cards are scheduled to be implemented in 2012.

“We cannot wait for the state,” said Youn. “We had to create our own report card.”

This year, students receive a grade of “excellent,” “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” on two GLOs — self directed learner and community contributor — from each of their teachers.

Students with three or more “unsatisfactory” grades cannot participate in extracurricular activities until their grades improve on the two-week grade checks. The system is patterned after the athletics academic review process.

Students who have fewer than three “unsatisfactory” grades are invited to attend a GLO assembly at the end of each semester.

The school’s PTSA contributed 25, $20 certificates and are developing more incentives for the next semester.

Out of the 1,030 students, about 200 students were unable to attend the first semester GLO assembly. This number will serve as a baseline to evaluate subsequent semesters.

“They are a model school because they are focusing on the total child,” Shigemoto said.

Another school-wide focus is on the Cornell note-taking system. Students were taught at the beginning of this school year to take notes utilizing two columns, one for details and one for labels or key words for the details. At the bottom of the page of notes, students write summaries.

Every student in every class is expected to take notes in this way. Every teacher formats lectures to facilitate the Cornell system of note-taking.

Dr. Bruce Matsui, Ed.D. from the Claremont Graduate University’s School of Educational Studies and his team of teacher trainers have been working with five to six teachers from each department on “bell-to-bell” and “wall-to-wall” instruction.

He is training teachers to use research-based, brain compatible strategies to maximize instructional time, Beralas said.

Youn said they were bringing in people to do workshops, but they weren’t seeing results. The teachers chose Matsui as a consultant to work with them on an on-going basis.

Matsui and his team work with selected teachers, observing classes, giving feedback, assisting in developing lessons as well as classroom structure and environment.

It’s called a lighthouse project, because the teachers will then mentor other teachers, Beralas said.

Because of Matsui’s teaching of “personalization of the classroom,” Youn spent time during spring vacation figuring out a schedule so that the tenth-grade students taking the HSA could take the math section in their math classes and the reading section in their English classes.

In the past, it was “mass testing.” Everyone was sent to the cafeteria and the proctor would bark orders through a microphone.

Although students are given extra time on the HCPS-based portion of the test, few students would opt to take the time once they saw their peers filing out the door.

Youn said the administrators will be going into each tenth-grade class to talk to students about the importance of the HSA. He is even thinking of offering a free or discounted school T-shirt to those who perform well.

Will all of this raise the HSA scores? Not necessarily.

Not all standards are tested. Schools do not know which will show up on the test.

Standards addressed in all four quarters, as mapped out by the state benchmark maps, are considered for the test.

The test is being administered at the beginning of the fourth quarter, so test questions could potentially cover things teachers have not yet addressed.

In standards-based instruction, teachers begin with the assessment. They know, and they let their students know exactly what is expected. They even show the students samples of good work, called exemplars. Teachers explain, using a rubric, the criteria used to select exemplars.

“In standards-base instruction, there is clarity,” Beralas said, “Yet with (the HSA) there is no clarity.”

Congress is reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind legislation this year.

Youn would like to see it change so that schools are recognized for making significant gains.

“Our school has a high proportion of students moving from well below to approaching (proficiency) … that has to be worth something,” Youn said.

Youn admits that something good has come out of NCLB.

“Instruction is improving,” Youn said.

Youn does walkthroughs. In line with standards-based instruction’s need for clarity, his teachers know for what, and at what he is looking.

Based on his walkthroughs, Youn knows that “teachers are instructing, not passing out worksheets.”

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