Grading the Public Schools: What It Means

How good are the schools in your neighborhood? Are they getting any better? This report card tells all.

This is our second report card on the quality of Hawaii’s 256 government-run public schools. The results run from page 32 to page 42 of this issue. When we debuted this report last year, it was the first of its kind, combining teacher, parent and student satisfaction with student performance on math and reading tests to determine a single score for each school. Since then, the state Department of Education has released new information in all the categories we draw from, so we thought it only fair to update our report card to see if anything has changed.

What’s the bottom line? We added a column showing each school’s rank last year, for easy comparison. Some schools improved. Some got worse. Most stayed the same. Overall, the average score slipped a bit, from 49.0 to 48.8. That’s a long way from 100, the score a school could get if all of its constituents felt it worth recommending, and if all of its students at least met the state’s minimum standards for proficiency in math and reading.

Readers interested in the nuts and bolts of where we got our numbers will want to read the last section of this article, “Our Sources,” on page 124.


A Problem with Privacy

Some schools shot up on the chart from last year to this year, solely because the DOE has withheld their math and reading test scores, which in last year’s chart had shown them as performing much more poorly. For example, Liliuokalani Elementary ranked No. 193 and got a D+ in our analysis last year. This standing was largely due to test scores—only 11.1 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency in reading, 17.6 percent in math. This time, the DOE report on Liliuokalani’s test results read, “Less than 30 students tested—data left blank for confidentiality purposes.”

Perhaps we should have given Liliuokalani Elementary an “incomplete” for its concealed math and reading scores. However, to apply our method consistently, we averaged the scores that were available (teacher, parent and student satisfaction) and, as a result, Liliuokalani Elementary this year gets a B+ and stands at rank No. 42. We trust our readers to take the gaps in DOE reporting into account. Just watch for the tell-tale “NA” for “not available.”

According to Jim Dannemiller, of SMS Hawaii Market Study, 30 is a common threshold for invoking the confidentiality argument. Clients of his, ranging from HMSA to the state Department of Health, argue that below 30, one could link statistical data to specific individuals.

“Would that argument stand if you pushed it hard? Probably not,” he says. “The more valid concern is that with small samples, the mean could move very quickly. But arguments about standard deviation are complex. It’s easier for people to just say omitting small samples protects confidentiality.”

In our view, it disserves the public to withhold test results. Test scores aren’t sensitive, private information the way, say, medical conditions might be, and they do not reflect solely on the student.

Nevertheless, in its release of the 2003 Hawaii State Assessment math and reading scores, the DOE used “confidentiality” to conceal 47 sets of reading scores and 53 sets of math scores. The public is left without any meaningful measure of how well these schools are doing. And the secrecy is increasing—when it released the 2002 Hawaii State Assessment scores, the privacy cutoff was 10 or fewer students, not 30 or fewer.

The biggest anomaly on our chart is the results for Keanae Elementary, here shown getting a perfect score and an A+. But this school is very unusual. It had, as of fall 2002, the most recent figures available, exactly three students and one teacher. The DOE withheld the math and reading test results, didn’t administer the School Quality Survey to students, didn’t get the surveys back from the two parents who received them and the school’s lone teacher gave Keanae perfect marks on nearly every measure of the SQS.

But this is not typical. In most schools, the SQS is administered to dozens, if not hundreds of teachers, parents and students.


Views from the top

When we analyze this official DOE data, combining satisfaction measures with academic achievement, we find that the average public school in Hawaii earns no better than 48.8 out of a possible 100 points. What does the DOE have to say about such performance?

When we showed state schools superintendent Patricia Hamamoto our latest findings for her comment, she asked if we had heard of Mark Hunter.


“He’s a retired banker who works out of Tampa, Fla.,” explained Hamamoto. “He’s worked with some of our schools. He came up with what’s called an opportunity index. It’s an econometrics model based on eight factors beyond the control of the schools.”



Hunter took HONOLULU Magazine’s “Grading the Public School” chart from last year and merged it with other DOE data on the socioeconomic environment of each school, looking at such things as poverty, the education level of area parents, the number of children in special education and in English as a second language, attendance, suspensions, etc. “This way, he comes up with an index of what the chances are in that community, where the school resides, for that kid to succeed.”

In Hunter’s analysis, Hamamoto explained, a school like Nuuanu Elementary, which scored an A+ on our chart last year, is in a community with an opportunity index of 100. Farrington High School, a D+ school last year, is in a community with an opportunity index of 37.

Hamamoto is quick to point out that this analysis is Hunter’s, not the DOE’s official response. However, it is basically the same argument advanced last year by DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen when we inquired about poor school performance. It is the same defense the DOE has publicly offered on numerous occasions: the learning disabled, the poor, the immigrants, the uneducated parents who don’t value education for their own kids. All these are factors beyond its control. It’s unfair to judge the schools as having failed when the environment these kids come from is giving them no opportunity to succeed.

However, something seems to have gone missing in the system’s obsession with econometric “opportunity indexes” and “factors beyond the school’s control:” the mission. From their founding a century ago, public schools were supposed to provide the opportunity for kids to succeed. All the more so when the schools may be those kids’ only chance.

Hawaii’s education leaders seem caught in a contradiction. “Public education is to take care of all the citizens, whether they choose to come or not, the whole idea is we’ll service them. That’s why we have compulsory education,” explains Hamamoto. “I believe in our mission.”

But when the DOE’s figures show widespread dissatisfaction with the schools and low test scores? “We’ve created schools in certain areas where there are these populations … I don’t know if I’m responsible, not me personally but as an educator and superintendent, for the people who gravitate to and make those communities. All I’m saying with the eight factors beyond our control is that they’re there and we’re working through them.”


“Once the people in the system start blaming the children, or blaming the parents’ economic status, they should go find another profession.” — Gov. Linda Lingle


To be fair, this is the same superintendent who dared to tell the state Legislature that the DOE is obsolete, who detailed in that January speech the many ways education is “shackled” by everything from civil service job descriptions to the DAGS monopoly on repair and maintenance, who insisted that she be held accountable for the system’s success or failure, who backs putting principals on performance contracts and who would take on the unions to provide merit pay for better performance by the schools. All of this may make her the most radical, courageous superintendent the state has ever seen.

Yet at some point, for this accountability to matter, education leaders need to accept that those “factors beyond their control” are in fact the most important tasks with which they have been entrusted. To teach immigrant children English. To serve the learning disabled. To give poor children the education they aren’t necessarily getting at home.

“These factors are no different than those that existed in the early days of this country,” says Gov. Linda Lingle. “My grandparents didn’t speak English when they came here, didn’t go to high school. But my father graduated from Purdue. He was expected to do well and they valued education. Once the people in the system start blaming the children, or blaming the parents’ economic status, they should go find another profession.”

10 most improved schools

Based on complete scores only, here are the 10 schools that rose highest in the ranks.
Honaunau Elementary HAW -47 225 147 D- C-
Hookena Elem. and Int. HAW +75 121 46 C B
Aliiolani Elementary HON +72 98 26 C+ A-
Aliamanu Middle CEN +65 218 153 D- C-
Sunset Beach Elementary WIN +64 88 24 C+ A-
Aliamanu Elementary CEN +61 190 129 D+ C
Kahakai Elementary HAW +57 125 68 C B-
Iao Intermediate M +56 234 178 F C-
Aiea Elementary WIN +55 217 16 D- C-
Hilo Intermediate HAW +55 155 196 C- C+


There are other signs that people in charge of our schools don’t want to hear about the job they’ve been doing. On a Saturday in March, the Board of Education and Department of Education hosted an all-day summit, “Reinventing Education for the 21st Century.” The theme was promising, but the execution of the day did little to assure the skeptical. Even the setting seemed designed to avoid painful self-examination—at the pristine, state-of-the-art Kapolei High School, it was easy for the 300 or 400 mainly DOE attendees, and the distinguished guests from Harvard and the San Francisco Unified School District, to think that Hawaii’s schools were in pretty decent shape.



The first person to speak was Lingle. (“I wasn’t invited, but when I asked to speak, they said yes,” she later told us.) Lingle reminded the audience that Hawaii’s schools ranked among the lowest in the nation. That learning disabled children, ESL students and poverty were present in the other 49 states, too, even the ones succeeding where Hawaii has not. That Hawaii’s schools have a particularly egregious history of failing Native Hawaiian children. Except for a smattering of applause when she recommended that teachers be paid more, her remarks were met with little reaction.

More to the point, they were met by the opening remarks of Breene Harimoto, chair of the Board of Education. He addressed none of Lingle’s observations, instead, dismissed them. “Let’s keep the politics out of education,” he said, overlooking the fact that as an elected official himself, his role and remarks could be nothing other than political. Then he delivered a homily on how adults should serve as role models for children. “Our character is defined by our words and actions. Respect and trust … honor and integrity,” he said.

Anthony-John Farinas and Tyler Navarro,
fifth graders at Aliiolani.

Photo: Marc Nomura

It was difficult to recognize this respectful role model as the same man who, at a community meeting, led a verbal lynching of fellow Board of Education member Laura Thielen, who had publicly supported the idea that smaller, regional school boards might better represent the people’s interest in education than the current, centralized BOE. At that March 18 meeting at Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School, Harimoto and other BOE members even accused Thielen of acting unethically, using BOE letterhead in her communications supporting local boards.

In case you’ve forgotten the fallout from this, our daily papers editorialized that Harimoto should realize Thielen was doing exactly what an elected official is supposed to do in a democracy—advance the philosophy and policies she thinks will best serve those who elected her, even on official BOE letterhead. Thielen challenged Harimoto to a public debate of the local school board issue, to get beyond the personal attack and argue the merits of the idea itself. Harimoto declined.

Back at the education summit, Tony Wagner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education spoke about how public schools in America are—here’s that word again—obsolete. The basic structure of high school curricula turned 100 years old this year. The profession of teaching was decades behind the kind of professionalism and continuing education seen in, for example, medicine. “The world has changed,” he said. “Our schools haven’t.”

Lest any of this disturb the peaceful reinvention of education in Hawaii, however, Wagner wrapped up by making fun of the language of reform. “Who wants to go to a reformed school?” he asked rhetorically. “The language of failure’ and reform’ is the language of shame and blame. But no one is to blame. There is no shame. The world has changed. Our schools haven’t.”

Wagner got a rousing round of applause.

Perhaps because he was from out of town, Wagner didn’t realize that Hawaii’s failing school system has been the stuff of local headlines for decades. That governor after governor has gotten into office on the promise of “an education second to none,” only to leave the job unfinished. That generations of superintendents, BOE members and DOE staff have been promising improvement, then failing to deliver results. Some of those very people were right there in the audience, clapping along.


10 most declining schools

Based on complete scores only, here are the 10 schools that fell farthest in the ranks.
Kahuku Elementary WIN -47 49 96 B C+
Kaunakakai Elementary MAUI -51 128 179 C C-
Helemano Elementary CEN -51 90 141 C+ C
Kawananakoa Middle HON -59 45 104 B C+
Keaukaha Elementary HAW -63 119 182 C D+
Waialua Elementary CEN -63 46 109 B C+
Palisades Elementary LEE -69 54 123 B C
Likelike Elementary HON -86 124 210 C D
Kailua Elementary WIN -88 113 201 C D
Kealakehe Intermediate HAW -91 105 196 C+ D+


The View from the Schools

This year, we’ve profiled four of the most improved schools in the state, because we felt it was crucial to find out what’s happening on the campuses themselves. We learn from them, for example, what a crucial difference a good principal can make. One of them, Aliiolani Elementary, actually lifted itself from a C+ to an A- on our chart. The others remain in the C range, even with the improvements.

When we compared the 256 schools’ rankings from last year to this year, we found the greatest movement—both up and down the rankings—occurred in schools that hovered around the B, and especially the C and D ranges. The schools least likely to change ranking at all were those that had been earning As or Fs.

A reminder: We graded Hawaii’s schools on a curve, rather than on the more rigorous measure where a score of 90 or more earns an A, 80 or more earns a B and so on. It was conceivably defensible to use the more stringent measure. After all, don’t we want schools where, say, 90 percent or more of teachers feel their own child would be well served by that school, or where 90 percent or more of the students at least meet state standards in reading ability? In the strictest measure, only such schools would earn an A. But by that measure, only 44 schools out 256 would earn a D or higher.

We focus here on the most improved scores, grading on the curve, to see what it takes for a Hawaii school to improve relative to its peers. Their struggles and achievements offer insights into the challenges our government-run schools face.


Aliiolani Elementary School

Gerald Teramae hates to take credit for Aliiolani’s impressive performance on this year’s “Grading the Public Schools” chart. But the consensus among teachers, staff and parents we interviewed is that Teramae, who took over as principal in February 2003, had a lot to do with improving the Kaimuki campus.

“Ultimately, much of the responsibility for student performance lies with the administration,” says student services coordinator Naomi Iwamoto. “With the new administration, we have a new direction, the support we need and the communication between administration and faculty so we know what’s happening—an open-door policy. It’s improved morale.”

Aliiolani’s overall grade jumped from a C+ to an A- on this year’s chart. The small school, with just 283 students, is the most-improved elementary in the state.

“Our teachers really worked on the students’ test-taking skills, which is key,” says Teramae, formerly a vice principal at Waipahu Intermediate. “They constantly go over the format of how to take the test, what strategies to use, so it’s ingrained in them. That’s so they don’t have to worry about the format of the test; they can focus on the content.”

About 39.5 percent of Aliiolani ’s students met state standards in math testing, up from 25.5 percent the year prior. Reading proficiency held strong, as well, with 73 percent of students meeting state standards.

 Aliiolani has also experimented with new academic programs, including a computer-based reading program and a textbook-free, hands-on science program.

Fifth graders Michelle Shiraki, Alisha Kodama
and Abby Vinas at Aliiolani Elementary School

Photo: Marc Nomura

“Teachers here are willing to take risks,” Teramae says. “It’s so easy for teachers to say, What worked 10 years ago should work today,’ but they want to try new things. It’s a credit to them. Teachers go out on their own, take professional development classes and share what they’ve learned with the rest of the faculty.”

Smaller projects have also made big differences. Under the school’s Positive Behavior Support program, students earn tokens for good behavior. They can then redeem those tokens for supplies or toys.

The PBS program provides students with their own planners. “It comes with a calendar and a list of assignments for each day,” says Trisha Kodama, who has two daughters in second and fifth grades at the school. “It’s great, because students and parents know what’s expected. There’s a space in the planner where teachers and parents can communicate, write notes to each other. It forces parents to get more involved, because parents have to look at the planner and sign it every day.”

Aliiolani has benefited from physical changes, as well. The school recently completed campus-wide renovations. Thanks to an $80,000 private grant, the school replaced decrepit equipment in its computer lab with 28 new eMacs. Using federal funds, Aliiolani purchased 40 laptops last year, working toward its goal of providing a laptop for each student.

While grants have helped the school, money isn’t always easy to come by, Teramae says. In fact, one of the principal’s biggest concerns is that Aliiolani cannot get the resources it needs from the Department of Education, which affects faculty, parents and students alike. Teachers must often buy classroom supplies with their own money. The school is also understaffed. Teramae would like to hire a full-time technology coordinator, another special-education teacher and another administrator (right now, the Department of Education deems Aliiolani too small to have a vice principal). As enrollment increases, Teramae worries about the growing class size, as many as 28 students per teacher.

“Teachers and parents shouldn’t have to make sacrifices, and they shouldn’t have to choose between whether we get textbooks or laptop computers or classroom supplies,” says Teramae, who wishes he had more control over his school’s budget. “Sometimes I have to fight or beg for positions, to have another special-education teacher, because one of my special-ed teachers is already responsible for 32 kids. Our school should have enough funding to provide for all the kids’ needs. If education is a priority to the state, if what they’re saying about educational reform is so important, we should be funded for everything we need in this school.”

Without adequate state funding, Aliiolani has figured out other ways to get by. That’s where the school’s parent organization, Friends of Aliiolani, comes in. The group raised funds to hire a part-time technology coordinator and help teachers with their out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

“We’re lucky we have such a supportive parent organization that’s provided us with a lot of funding for programs and personnel positions that were not allocated through the state,” Teramae says. “We also have dedicated staff members who are willing to do extra things that need to be done, like applying for grants. We’ll do whatever it takes to take care of all our kids, to help them reach their potential.”

— Ronna Bolante


Aliamanu Middle School

Principal Patricia Park doesn’t hold back anything, good or bad, from her teachers. When she saw her school’s ranking in HONOLULU Magazine last year, she took the article straight to her faculty. Aliamanu Middle School was among the worst schools in the state, ranking No. 218 out of 256 and earning an overall grade of D-.

Compared to other middle schools in Aliamanu’s central district, Park’s school fell among the bottom few. Compared with the seven elementary schools and high schools in the same school complex, including Aliamanu Elementary and Radford High, Aliamanu Middle School was dead last.

“We really looked at the data and said, OK, we need to beef up parent satisfaction,’” Park says. “With the kids’ test scores, we asked, Was it that they didn’t know how to take the test, or did they really not know how to do it?’ Teachers became more aware of what the expectations were.”

This year, Aliamanu Middle School climbed 65 spots up the chart to No. 153, showing improvement in all five areas—teacher, parent, student satisfaction and math and reading scores. The school’s overall grade this year: C-. Not a stupendous performance, but definitely a big move in the right direction.

What changed? Plenty. In recent years, Aliamanu has focused more on professional development. Teachers take six development days each year.

“For consistency, we have the whole faculty learning and trying something new,” Park says. “We set up courses right here on campus that offer credits. If you earn so many, you can get a pay raise.”

Eighth graders Maggie Kwong, Kizuku Scott and
Julie Nemeth at Aliamanu Middle School

Photo: marc nomura

Last year, teachers at Aliamanu and at the eight other Radford Complex schools received “Step Up to Writing” training. The program shows teachers how to help students improve writing skills in all subjects, even science and math. The initiative has since been implemented at the schools—just one example of how Aliamanu has worked with the elementary schools from which it gets its students, and with the high school to which its students will move on.

“It’s something we’re working on, and it’s getting smoother and smoother,” says middle school coordinator Linda Higashi. “From kindergarten, we should ask ourselves, What’s gonna happen to this child? What do we need to do to build them up to the vision of what a high school graduate is?’ Each of us has a part in that.”

Other changes at the middle school have come about thanks to a number of grants. A federal grant under the No Child Left Behind Act enabled Aliamanu to open a Transition Center in August. The center helps new students adjust to the school—a huge help, considering that 85 percent of its 800-plus students are military children.

Because of the school’s military population, the Department of Defense is one of its biggest benefactors. Last year, defense funds allowed Aliamanu to build a PC computer lab and renovate its existing Mac lab. The school has also received tens of thousands of dollars to buy textbooks.

“We lose about 30 percent of our kids every year, but a new student comes in almost every day,” Park says. “The numbers stay constant, but the students don’t. It can be really tough on teachers who want to build on things they’ve already taught.”

Aliamanu has also ramped up its communication with parents. The school set up e-mail accounts for faculty and installed phones in each classroom. Park also established an orientation day for incoming students, when parents can walk their children from class to class, sign up for bus services and meet the staff.

Such efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Shelley Lindsey enrolled her seventh-grade son, Patrick, at Aliamanu last year. Lindsey, whose husband is in the military, relocated from New Mexico two years ago.

“When we first came to Hawaii, people told me I shouldn’t send my child to public school, that I should home-school him,” Lindsey says. “But I was so impressed with this school from the start—the great communication, the open-door policy, how the teachers and principal are willing to go the extra mile. From day one, I thought to myself, They’re really recognizing we’re doing this together, we’re building a child together.’”

—Ronna Bolante


Honaunau Elementary and Intermediate School

A feeling of “good morale” is what students and educators attribute to the full letter grade improvement at Honaunau Elementary and Intermediate School. The K-8 facility is up from a D- to a C- on this year’s “Grading the Public Schools” report card, making it Hawaii’s most improved multilevel school. “We will continue improving to make our move up,” says principal Faye Ogilvie.

More common in rural areas and on the Neighbor Islands, multilevel schools combine elementary, intermediate and/or high school grades on a single campus. Established 102 years ago, Honaunau School is located 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island’s Hawaii Belt Road. School enrollment is 227; there is one class for each grade plus on-site pre-schools for both special-ed and migrant students.

Teacher satisfaction scores have almost tripled from last year; they’re up from 18.8 percent to 53.9 percent. Ogilvie credits the good marks to the fact that teachers feel they’re getting somewhere. “Our teachers are working as a team,” she explains. “They are focused on delivering standards-based instruction and meeting student needs.”

From left to right, Faye Ogilvie, principal; Kimberly Hayama, student; Cherokee Shaner, teacher,
Donna Pammer, Parent Community Networking Coordinator.

Photo: Wayne Levin

What are the results of this synergy? First, Honaunau School has improved student scores on national and state tests to the point where the school has met its goals under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Second, Honaunau has, after four years of implementation, fully adopted a new approach to teaching, called America’s Choice School Design. The approach uses teaching techniques that have been proven effective at raising student performance, and sets high academic standards in such core subjects as math, English and science. “Teachers have been working really, really hard on America’s Choice,” says Ogilvie. “They’re at a point where it makes sense.”

With America’s Choice, students do a daily two-and-a-half-hour literacy workshop on reading and writing. “Instead of reading a book chapter and answering a worksheet, students do a variety of activities around novels,” explains teacher Cherokee Shaner. Pupils write essays that compare a text to themselves, to another book or to something in the world.

For math, students spend one-hour sessions on problem solving. Writing an answer using numbers isn’t good enough. Math whiz wannabes must also write word sentences and draw pictures. In this year’s chart, Honaunau students show a slight increase in math performance scores and a slight decrease in reading.

More parents are smiling at Honaunau School, too with the percentage of parents who would recommend Honaunau to other parents climbing from 55.5 percent to 65.7 percent. The school is reaching out to parents in new ways, including an open invitation for them to visit classrooms. “Teachers also share standards-based reading data with parents,” says Donna Pammer, Parent Community Network Coordinator. “That way, parents can see where their child’s performance is at in comparison to grade-level targets.”

In an effort to get parents more involved with their child’s learning, Honaunau School has a Read with Me program. It encourages families to share the joy of reading with children in pre-school through grade four.

According to the survey, more students are happy—48.8 percent, up from 35.4 percent. “I think kids like school because we’re doing more fun activities,” smiles Kimberly Hayama, student council president. “At Halloween, we got goodie bags. This spring there was a Living Healthy Fair.” At the fair, students were grouped to go on a Fitness Walk, and learned about nutrition and the perils of tobacco.

If Hayama could make a wish for her school, what would it be? “More computers in the classroom,” she answers without hesitation.

—Fern Gavelek



Kalani High School

Things are looking up at Kalani, this year’s most improved high school in our “Grading the Public Schools” report. As we were preparing to profile Kalani for its gains we got word that its students had their day in court and emerged victorious—of course, we’re talking about Kalani’s mock-trial student team, which just won the state mock-trial championship. This qualifies Kalani to compete in the nationals this month in Florida. Consider that one of many bright spots on campus.

“In the state championship, we competed against other public as well as private schools,” says mock-trial team coach Gregory S. Van Cantfort. “You’re given a case and prepare one side of it, while the other schools prepare the other side.” The championship was held in the Territorial-era courthouse, Aliiolani Hale. There, Kalani unseated private schools like Punahou and Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA), as well as “the juggernaut,” Kauai High School, which had gone undefeated for seven years.

Van Cantfort wears many hats. The social studies teacher, in his 16th year at Kalani, teaches two advanced-placement U.S. history classes and, two regular history classes and, is Kalani’s co-acting athletic director and boy’s varsity soccer coach. On top of this, he sits on the school’s redesign committee, a body that may be one of the most revolutionary things happening on this campus.

Teacher Gregory Van Cantfort with the students  in his mock trial team (seated, left to right):
Kelly Morikone, Michi Momose, Krystin Yogi, Natasia de Silva, Sharry Zhang, Sara Fares,
Vanessa Koseki and (standing, left to right) Roxanne Kwong, Marcus Nakama, Kelsie Furutani,
Chloe Yogi, Christina Hunt and legal advisor, attorney Charlie Price.

“We’re in a really exciting moment at the school, working on redesigning it,” he says. “The impetus behind this was that we

didn’t feel there was a real connection with the students, and they weren’t connected with what they were learning.” This was especially puzzling, since Kalani is relatively small for a local high school, with just around 1,000 students. “Now we’re trying to personalize their education.”

One way to do that is to create “small academies within the schools.” Next year’s freshmen, for example, will be split into four houses. Another approach is to reinvent Kalani as a magnet school based on the theme of law. “Not just in the sense of attorneys,” says Van Cantfort, “but in all subjects. We would teach science through forensics, for example, and bring in the other subjects, such as math and physics.”

Recently, the redesigners at Kalani High attended a symposium for Kalani and all the schools that feed into it, trying to configure all of kindergarten through 12th grade so that the schools support each other. “The table I was at had administrators, teachers, parents, business people. I really had an eye-opening experience listening to how the non-educators perceived the education system,” recalls Van Cantfort. “They feel that kids coming out of high school are not prepared for the work force. Hearing that come from them, I felt kind of sad, because, as a teacher, I wondered, am I lacking? Likewise, it was eye-opening to the non-educators to see what teachers have to go through, how difficult it is to wade through the bureaucracy just to get to teaching.”

One thing that pushed Kalani up 43 places on our chart was a big gain in teacher satisfaction, expressed as the percentage of teachers who say they would send their own child to Kalani. Teachers there have found new reasons to feel involved. Another big gain was in math scores, from 33.3 percent meeting or exceeding proficiency to 50.8 percent.

“Our math department members have been working closely with one another to align the curriculum with the state standards from one grade to the next,” says Kalani principal Randian Porris-Tang. “We’d also have to thank the teachers at the intermediate and elementary schools; the whole complex has been working really hard.”

—A. Kam Napier


Our Sources

Where did we get our numbers? Satisfaction scores from the teachers, parents and students were collected by the Department of Education through its annual School Quality Survey, administered last spring and released in October 2003. The full survey results for each school run about 24 pages and offer valuable insights. We recommend that you read them, in full. They are available online at

To find out how satisfied teachers, parents and students are with their own schools, we used their responses to specific SQS questions that struck us as crucial. If you were figuring out where to enroll your own child, these are exactly the things you would ask.

Our teacher satisfaction score is the percentage of teachers agreeing, or strongly agreeing, with the statement, “I would send my own child to this school.” This year’s scores range from a low of 4.8 percent at Waianae Elementary to a high of 100 percent at 11 different schools throughout the state.

Our parent satisfaction score is the percentage of parents agreeing, or strongly agreeing, with the statement, “I would recommend my child’s school to other parents.” This year’s scores range from a low of 13.9 percent at Molokai High and Intermediate, to a high of 100 percent at Maunaloa Elementary, the only school to get a perfect parent satisfaction score.

Our student satisfaction score is the percentage of students disagreeing with the statement, “If I could, I would go to a different public school.” This is the closest the SQS comes to asking students for bottom- line assessment of their own schools. In this case, disagreement is good, indicating that the students are happy or willing to attend their present school. This year’s scores range from a low of 20 percent at Kaaawa Elementary to a high of 86.5 percent at Aliiolani Elementary.

Each school’s math and reading scores come from the 2003 Hawaii State Assessment, administered last spring. The score for each school that you find in our chart is simply the percentage of students tested who met or exceeded the state’s proficiency standards. Math proficiency ranged from 0.0 percent at three Oahu elementary schools—where literally no student tested met Hawaii’s proficiency standards—to a high of 73.5 percent at Koko Head Elementary. Reading proficiency ranged from 10.8 percent at Anuenue School to a high of 85.7 percent at Momilani Elementary.