27.8.13

Authentic Assessments and Immersion Schools

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The Hawaii Tribune Herald came out with this article last week, which shares island-wide school rankings under the new Strive HI performance standards. According to the Deputy Superintendent, Hawaii State DOE is

"valuing more than just test scores, we are taking a comprehensive look at the successes and challenges of schools...this wealth of data will allow educators, school leaders, parents and the community to have meaningful conversations about what is working and where they need to improve to prepare all students for college and careers." 
 The only problem? Stand outs in the bottom tier ("Priority Schools") include not one but two language immersion schools - Ka Umeke Kaeo and Nawahiokalaniopuu Iki. I can't speak for Ka Umeke Kaeo, but I can certainly testify on behalf of Nawahi since my child is a student there.

The DOE claims that they are looking at more than test scores, but almost all of their information (including student tracking) is coming from the Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) test.  Aside from that, they are looking at graduation rates, which don't apply to an elementary school, and SIG grants, which Nawahi doesn't receive.  So, in reality, these rankings are based solely on the results of standardized testing.

Despite the fact that the Native American Language Act (NALA) is supposed to protect indigenous peoples right to use their own language for education and Hawaii is unique in that Hawaiian is an official and legally recognized language of the state (along with English) - the Hawaii State DOE is still demanding that children who are educated in Hawaiian be tested and ranked using English assessments!  Its not only absurd, its illegal.

And how does this false and prejudicial information help us exactly?  How are we having "meaningful conversations" with immersion schools when this blatant disrespect for the validity and viability of their unique educational environment is published in a worldwide forum?  Is the DOE honestly taking a "comprehensive look" at these schools when they choose to ignore Nawahi's graduation rate (100% - far above state average) and college attendance rate (80% - also well above average)?  Not to mention the wealth of curriculum based measurement (CBM) data the school can provide, but the DOE chooses to ignore.

Historically, the parents of Nawahi have boycotted the HSA.  However, the process to opt out can be complicated and even one test score will become a reflection of the entire schools performance.  Even if the students, who are not explicitly taught English (as a foreign language) until 5th grade, were to take the assessment, the content would be inappropriate, as these students are taught to view the world, including the world of academics, from a uniquely Hawaiian perspective.

The consequences of this article stretch far beyond parental outrage.  False representations such as this can cause a community to lose faith in these schools, whereby the schools lose funding and enrollment.  Furthermore, to discount Hawaiian medium education as somehow failing its students, when in fact the exact opposite is true, is a disservice to Native Hawaiian families.  According to UHH Professor Pila Wilson, "the outcomes of such invalid and discriminatory assessments subject a school community, such as that of Nawahi, to punitive actions by the state and federal goverment...including a change in curriculum, dismissal of staff, school restructuring, closing of a school, and takeover of the school."

The DOE used to offer a Hawaiian language version of the test, but the translation was very poor quality with numerous errors, misspellings, etc. (the USDE took out a craigslist ad in Washington DC for a translator).  The schools would like to see a comparable assessment in Hawaiian language that tests similar academic skills but is based on Hawaiian curriculum, however neither the state nor the schools have the funding to create such a thing.  Clearly, a solution for authentic assessment needs to be found so Hawaiian-speaking educators, parents, school leaders and communities can benefit from the same meaningful conversations being offered to their English-speaking neighbors.  The Department of Education needs to stop marginalizing Hawaiian medium schools and begin finding fair and viable solutions that benefit everyone involved.  Erroneously besmirching a schools reputation in the daily newspaper is not a good way to start.

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