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Archives Tuesday, April 12, 2005

No test cheaters on Big Isle

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 8:43 AM HST

School officials say the potential exists, however

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Alleged cheating on Hawaii State Assessment tests has not been reported at Big Island public schools, but opportunities abound and there is little oversight of potential problems in administering the high-stakes tests.

State public school officials yesterday were meeting to figure out what to do at Waianae Intermediate School on Oahu where eighth-graders reportedly were given actual test questions and answers before taking the exams.

School officials were attempting to isolate the problem at Waianae, where some students may have to retake the exams which determine whether a school is making "adequate yearly progress" toward the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools failing to meet the AYP requirements face progressive sanctions up to a state takeover of the school's administration.

The Waianae school is one of 24 statewide -- five on the Big Island -- currently undergoing a state takeover after missing the AYP standard for more than five years.

State Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said in a Department of Education press release Saturday that it's standard practice for the DOE to investigate any type of alleged testing misconduct to "maintain the credibility and integrity of the Hawaii State Assessment."

Apparently it's not the first time DOE officials were told of testing irregularities. At least two earlier cases of "inappropriate assistance" to students taking the state tests were reported to the DOE prior to the Waianae case now under investigation, according to a state Auditor's report released in January.

It was unclear Monday what the details are involving those two cases. Hamamoto and other school officials working on the Waianae investigation were unavailable for comment.

In the January report, state Auditor Marion Higa also questioned the test results at Waters of Life Public Charter School in Keaau in 2002-03. The school was recognized for making adequate yearly progress but Higa said its test scores may be misleading because not all of its eligible students took the test.

The charter school's 10th-grade students exceeded the standards in reading and mathematics in 2003, for example, but only four of 15 eligible students enrolled in Waters of Life took the English test. In 2002, five of 12 eligible 10th-graders took the English test, Higa reported.

School officials said that students repeating grades and transfers distorted the enrollment numbers. Higa reported that she was unable to confirm the enrollment discrepancies but that she found at least two students who were 10th-graders at the school who did not take the tests.

Higa said "the integrity of the (testing) process may be at risk," even though she reported finding no irregularities in the DOE's overall administration of the tests. The tests' importance, however, and the opportunities that exist to manipulate the results with little or no monitoring at the school level, could lead to problems, she said.

Higa noted that the DOE allows schools to administer their own tests, that test materials are provided to schools in advance, and that the major safeguard against cheating is to check the results for obvious irregularities.

Hawaii is not the only state experiencing problems with the testing process. Extensive cheating was found in a 2002 Chicago Public Schools study, Higa said, and state school officials in Texas are also investigating allegations of cheating on its standardized tests.

West Hawaii Complex Superintendent Arthur Souza said no testing irregularities have been reported in his complex, but he surmised there may be some in the schools. "It's high stakes," Souza said. "Testing conditions are as different school-to-school as the clothes we wear ... (and) the pressures might lead people to take liberties they wouldn't ordinarily take."

The Waianae investigation could result in more extensive monitoring of the testing process in Hawaii public schools, said John Thatcher, principal of Connections Public Charter School in Hilo.

The stakes are so high that some schools believe they must do whatever they have to meet the standards, he said, and some school officials may have sent a wrong message by urging teachers to "teach to the test."

"They encourage the kids to get the sample questions," said Thatcher. But at Waianae, "as I understand it, they were getting actual test" questions in advance that were supposed to be sealed until the tests were given.

That's the wrong approach, said Thatcher. Connections students have made adequate yearly progress by teaching a broad-based curriculum which prepares students better. Instead of teaching to the test, Thatcher suggested school officials "find curriculums that work."

"The big story here is not so much this (cheating) thing," he said. "It's that schools are teaching kids for the tests, ignoring music, art, ... kids aren't getting a whole education any more."

Hunter Bishop can be reached at

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