Kaua‘i schools aim to improve student readiness

As Kaua‘i public schools welcomed back students yesterday, Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki said this year he’s stressing student readiness, public confidence and leadership for the island’s schools.

On readiness, Arakaki said state test scores are part of the picture.

“We need to have students be prepared and ready,” he said, as more and more job opportunities require some type of training or education beyond a high school diploma.

Statewide, 60 percent of Hawai‘i’s public schools did not meet No Child Left Behind benchmarks based on Hawai‘i State Assessment tests. Performance among Hawai‘i’s public high schools was even worse, with 88 percent of the 42 schools coming up short.

On Kaua‘i, two-thirds of public schools did not meet “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP, standards. Only Kapa‘a and Waimea high schools and Koloa, Kekaha and ‘Ele‘ele elementary schools saw sufficient progress.

But some Kaua‘i educators say the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Benchmarks were raised this year, making it harder to reach the goals. And the AYP results include special education students along with the rest of the student population, which some say is unfair.

In addition, schools can see increases in the number of proficient tests, and still fail to meet objectives set by No Child Left Behind for the year.

Case in point: Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School. Principal Terry Proctor said his school has made progress, thanks in part to contracting with an education consulting agency, but it hasn’t been enough to get the AYP stamp of approval. For example, the number of proficient tests among disadvantaged students increased from 28 percent to 47 percent over the last three years, still below the benchmark for that category.

Proctor agrees that No Child Left Behind makes schools accountable, saying it forces administrators to look at the data and work to improve it. However, he’s not convinced it measures all the goals of a good education, such as creating community-minded lifelong learners.

“Hawai‘i students are still making gains even if they’re not passing,” said Debbie Lindsey, principal of Koloa Elementary, which has made a dramatic turnaround in the past three years from one of the worst AYP performers to one of the best.

While Lindsey feels No Child Left Behind can create a false sense of failure among schools, she’s grateful for the push in the right direction that it’s encouraged.

When Lindsey arrived at Koloa School, there had been four principals in the past year, and two more in the previous four years. The leadership changes created a “real sense of instability,” she said, and it “shook the confidence of the community as well as the staff.”

The chronically underperforming school qualified for funding, which was used to hire an instructional consultant. Between April 2007 to April 2008, the consultant worked with teachers to improve their instruction techniques.

All year long, Lindsey and three teacher “coaches” sit in on classes to offer instructors regular feedback and guidance. Yesterday, the first day of classes, she visited every room, some more than once. The end result, Lindsey said, has been teachers who respond when students aren’t getting a lesson by adjusting their teaching methods.

Waimea High School Principal Larry Kaliloa attributes his school’s passing scores to an increased emphasis on reading.

One of five public high schools in Hawai‘i to meet AYP standards, the school implemented a reading program last year. Kaliloa said it was met with some criticism, but in the end helped students on the state tests.

As for Arakaki’s readiness goal, this year Waimea High is piloting a senior project requirement for most would-be graduates. The goal is for students to explore a subject new to them and present it.

“It bumps up their ability to be able to work with community members and find info outside the walls of the classroom,” Kaliloa said.

Arakaki’s other goals for the year include supporting leadership and professional development, as well as boosting public trust in Kaua‘i schools.

He said a lack of confidence became evident in the spring when parents started calling about students who weren’t allowed to walk at graduation or participate in elementary and middle school promotions, as well as some incidents with Chapter 19 drug discipline policy.

“If there is a systematic way to how we address concerns, the calls would be minimal,” he said. This year’s goal is to show parents and the public that “we do care and we’re not rigid and inflexible to the policies and rules in our system.”

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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