Principals at five Maui County public schools are appealing their schools' ratings under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The principals question the way their students' test results were counted and say they want to clear the record while keeping annual yearly progress results in proper perspective.
"It's a window. It's a snapshot of the day the tests are taken," said Lahaina Intermediate School Principal Marsha Nakamura. "It should not be a report card of the school. . . . At our school, we know. We know what's happening with our students. They are learning in their classrooms. We're seeing the growth, and that's what matters to us."
Testing schools: Growth is ‘what matters’
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos
Kahului Elementary School student Aaron Borja takes notes in math class Thursday. Students raise their white boards instead of their hands (top photo) in Dawn Mijo’s class Thursday. The white boards allow all students to show they know the answer, even if just one of their classmates is chosen to speak.
Kahului Elementary School Principal Fern Markgraf gives teacher Dawn Mijo a high- five in class Thursday. Markgraf is among five principals in the Maui District appealing their schools’ rankings under the No Child Left Behind rating system.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Last month, Lahaina Intermediate was among 17 Maui County schools determined to be in "restructuring," or the lowest status, following student testing in reading and math in April. The county's 14 other schools affected by adequate yearly progress determinations were given various ratings, with only four schools - Kula, Paia, Pukalani and Maunaloa elementary schools - getting the highest, "good standing, unconditional" rating.
The five schools appealing their adequate yearly progress ratings are Hana High and Elementary School, Lahaina Intermediate School, Kahului Elementary School, Kamalii Elementary School in Kihei and Kualapuu Elementary on Molokai.
While four of the five schools are in "restructuring status," Kamalii received a "good status, pending" rating, which means the school missed benchmarks this year. But the school remains in good standing unless adequate yearly progress is missed two years in a row.
Missing the Target
The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to achieve "adequate yearly progress" by an increasing number of students passing a standardized state achievement test. Schools are rated each year based on whether they have achieved adequate yearly progress (AYP) as the requirement for showing proficiency will be steadily raised to reach 100 percent in 2014.
. Good Standing - Unconditional. The school has achieved AYP every year.
. Good Standing - Pending. A school has failed to achieve AYP for one year.
. School Improvement - Year 1. A school has failed to achieve AYP for two consecutive years. This is the first level at which the school may face sanctions.
. School Improvement - Year 2. A school has failed to achieve AYP for three consecutive years. The school is subject to granting school choice options and contract for supplemental education services.
. Corrective Action. A school has failed to achieve AYP for two years since falling into the School Improvement rank (failing to achieve AYP for two consecutive years). The state Department of Education is required to intervene with assistance to the school, including use of outside educational contractors to assess and advise faculty and administration on methods to improve teaching.
. Planning for Restructuring. A school has failed to achieve AYP for three years after falling into the School Improvement rank. Departmental intervention includes planning for staffing and possible changes in governance.
. Restructuring. A school has failed to achieve AYP for four years after falling into the School Improvement ranks. Departmental intervention may include changes in staffing.
What has made achieving adequate yearly progress more difficult this year has been higher proficiency standards. This year's proficiency levels were raised from 44 percent to 58 percent in reading and 28 percent to 46 percent in math. Principals say that while their students have achieved substantial academic gains, they've still fallen short of the higher benchmarks.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a mandate initiated by President Bush, the goal is to have every student grade proficient in reading and math by the year 2014.
Last week, the state Department of Education posted on its Web site school-by-school test results, which show marked gains yet not enough to declare the majority of them as meeting adequate yearly progress targets.
Families with children in restructuring schools are free to use the school's status as a justification to transfer out and enroll in another school. There haven't been any reports of massive student exits, and instead, principals are defending their schools, even appealing unfavorable results of the annual determination whether schools have achieved adequate progress.
Raw data from the Education Department's Web site show Kamalii Elementary students met all the proficiency objectives in reading and math, even exceeding the benchmark by as many as 12 percentage points in reading by one of its subgroups of test takers.
However, Kamalii did not meet a requirement of a 2 percent retention rate. The school's retention rate was listed at 3 percent.
Kamalii Elementary Principal Mary Auvil could not be reached for comment last week, but Maui Complex Area Superintendent Bruce Anderson explained that the school has a unique offering of programs. Those include junior kindergarten, regular kindergarten, transition 1st grade and regular 1st grade. Students in junior kindergarten and transition 1st grade are enrolled in those programs to give them more time to mature and adapt to the school setting.
But the No Child Left Behind Act reporting system counts these students in junior kindergarten and transition 1st grade as having been retained, without taking into account the specifics of each situation. And that led to a higher retention rate for the school.
In the appeal filed by Kualapuu, Principal Lydia Trinidad said her staff wants the test-taking evaluators to review how they counted "disadvantaged" students on her campus.
By the school's count, approximately 74 students on free- or reduced-meal prices were not placed into the disadvantaged category and their scores could have a positive effect on the school's reading and math test scores.
"I don't want to put the fault on anybody," Trinidad said. "Maybe we missed a step. . . . I'm just glad there's an appeal process."
Like many schools, Trinidad said, she's appealing the results to set the record straight. She's also hopeful and encouraged by individual student score analyses that show the students increased their reading and math proficiency levels by as many as 10 percentage points.
"That was huge, really huge," she said. "I'm really happy for that."
Lahaina's Nakamura and Kahului Elementary Principal Fern Markgraf say they also question the way their students' test scores were counted.
Nakamura said she believes her campus will remain in restructuring, even if it wins its appeal. Last year, Lahaina Intermediate suffered a "heartbreaker" when only one of its groups of test takers failed to reach the proficiency benchmarks.
No Child Left Behind requires all groups of test takers to achieve proficiency, and if one fails, all fail.
"This year it was very disappointing," Nakamura said, acknowledging that more than one subgroup was unable to meet the required benchmarks.
The proficiency levels are applied to the school as a whole, and then to subgroups defined by ethnicity, poverty levels, English proficiency and special education needs.
A closer look at Lahaina Intermediate's scores show one subgroup having as many as 78 percent proficient in reading (exceeding the required 58 percent by 20 points) and hitting the mark of 46 percent proficient in math.
Nakamura said her appeal stems from the counting of student test takers who may have not been enrolled on her campus at the beginning of the school year and who were being calculated into the mix when they shouldn't have been.
Markgraf said there are many teaching strategies that her school has incorporated, not because of adequate yearly progress but because it's what they find most effective in student learning.
"We are doing what's best for the kids," Markgraf said, adding that her staff also has expressed disappointment and sometimes even frustration at how close their students come to meeting the benchmarks.
"We went through the results, line by line, child by child," Markgraf said. "We are so close, so, so close."
Kualapuu Elementary also tries to keep a "healthy perspective" about results from the Hawaii State Assessment and what its adequate yearly progress status is under the No Child Left Behind Act, Trinidad said.
"We do more than NCLB. We focus on other things too like computers, science, social studies and even physical education," she said.
"AYP is not our priority. Quality education is foremost for the teachers and our staff," Nakamura added.
Still, all the school principals said they're moving on and working with hired state contractors tasked with assisting the campuses raise their test scores and improve their adequate yearly progress results.
At Kahului Elementary, Markgraf plans to implement more programs that focus on special subgroups of students and give them individual time to improve.
Lahaina Intermediate will implement a new system that allows teachers to break down quarterly student assessments and find where and what specifically a student needs to do in order to achieve proficiency. The new contractor assisting with raising student achievement is also expected to assist with classroom observation to assist teachers in their teaching strategies.
Anderson said he tells his complex administrators to "do what is best for the kids" and remember that the primary mission of schools is to teach its students how to master reading and math. Adequate yearly progress helps the schools to measure how well they're performing, Anderson said.
Schools must also cover other content areas such as science, social studies and even physical education, he said. "We will strive to do both."
The final decision on the schools' appeals rests with state Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, who is expected to get a recommendation from her staff toward the end of this month.
Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.