New Online Data Tools Changing the Way Hawaii’s Public School Students Learn

New tech tools are allowing teachers to tailor their lesson plans to individual students more than ever.


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Waipahu High School students Andrea Jurado (far left) and Juanito Moises Jr. (far right), eat lunch with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Gov. Neil Abercrombie at the Marauder cafeteria. In March, Duncan visited Hawaii and noted remarkable progress over the past three years.

Photos: Elyse Butler Mallams

Online data tools allow principals, curriculum coordinators and teachers to look at how students are doing in their current classes, or even as far back as when they first entered the public school system. It seems like a simple concept, but despite years of collecting student data, the DOE only recently started consolidating it in a way that makes it useful for evaluating whether the new reforms being implemented are actually having the desired effect.

“It’s definitely raising the level of teaching quality, I believe, and it’s holding teachers responsible for their numbers,” Cole says.

Not everyone is seeing the same data. Teachers, for the most part, still need to be trained on the longitudinal data system, which would allow them to look at individual student data year by year—that information is so far still mostly used by administrators and data coordinators. But many classroom teachers are already using a databank of standards-based questions to create quizzes that quickly assess how their students are currently doing. Those assessments help teachers decide whether they need to reteach the whole class certain concepts or customize instruction for students who are learning at different rates.

“Every student is going to be different. Teaching is not an exact science and you have to make adjustments for each student, treating every student as an individual,” Cole says. In his social studies classes, he often puts an emphasis on the “social,” having more advanced students working with those who need help. That gives a boost to the students who can benefit from the extra assistance, but it also helps higher-achieving students master the subject well enough to teach their peers.

From the student perspective, they’re taking more tests and quizzes than ever before.

Andrea Jurado, a senior at Waipahu High School, moved to Hawaii from the Philippines four years ago, in time for freshman year. She may not have used the word reform in her description, but over the past four years, she says she’s noticed changes, including an emphasis on raising student achievement through “more homework, lots of assessments and quizzes—quizzes and exams every week.”

If you don’t pass the assessments, Jurado says, teachers just have their students go back and do them again. She adds, however, “Even if we fail, there’s going to be a lot of support.”

It could be discouraging, but the native-Tagalog speaker is thriving in her classes and maintaining a 4.15 grade-point average. She’s taking AP courses and college courses offered to about 300 Waipahu students by Leeward Community College. And she’s been accepted to highly competitive Columbia University in New York City.

Juanito Moises Jr., also a senior at Waipahu and a native-Ilocano speaker, says academic expectations have been building in recent years. “When we were young, we didn’t have that much pressure. Everything was just kind of chill at that time,” he says.

Quizzes abound—in his advanced placement physics class they’re given almost daily. “If we get most of them wrong, we spend the rest of the class learning the concepts again,” he says. But if his 3.89 grade-point average is any indication, the constant assessments and frequent review of missed skills are working. He’s already been accepted to four colleges.

The new individually tracked data is not only helping to evaluate students, it’s being used to assess schools themselves. Beyond just a simple Hawaii State Assessment score, schools are graded on other factors such as graduation and college acceptance rates, as well as attendance and drop-out statistics. (See a full chart of the Strive HI ranking system.)

Under Strive HI, schools are scored based on how well they’re preparing students for college and careers, one of the main thrusts of national education reform initiatives. The Hawaii State Assessment, which will transition to the Smarter Balanced Assessment next year, is still high-stakes, but the end-of-year assessments no longer determine whether a school passes or fails. The end-of-year assessments are still important, but schools also need to show that they’re making progress in helping all students achieve at higher levels each year—and that lower-achieving students are starting to catch up to their higher-achieving peers.

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