Lifestyle and Culture

Should Students Be Able To Take Hawaii’s Annual Test in Hawaiian?

November 11, 2013

Hawaii landscapeHawaii is the only one of the 50 states in the United States that has designated its native language as one of the state’s official languages. Yet public school students cannot take the state’s annual test in Hawaiian. Hawaiian language advocates say it’s time to take the state’s indigenous tongue seriously.

One reason not to develop a Hawaiian language version of the test is cost. Cost could run about $2.8 million according to “Hawaiian Language Students Getting Lost In Translation ” by Katherine Poythress in the Honolulu Civil Beat. About 350 students would probably take the Hawaiian version of the test.

The Hawaiian state House of Representatives is considering a bill that proposesdeveloping the separate test in Hawaiian.

History: Hawaiian Nearly Wiped Out Early Last Century

Why is this an issue now? The answer requires a bit of history. Kauanoe Kamana and William H. Wilson say that during the first two decades of the 20th century Hawaii underwent a massive language shift. The shift was the result of English-only legislation. That legislation nearly exterminated the Hawaiian language and culture. It also had disastrous effects on literacy, academic achievement, and even the use of Standard English among native Hawaiians. By 1990, out of nearly 200,000 native Hawaiians in Hawaii, the U.S. census listed only 8,872 speakers of Hawaiian.

In the 1970s a renaissance of the Hawaiian culture emerged, and, within it, a renewed respect for the native language of the Hawaiian people. In 1978 the Hawaiian language was again made an official language of the state. Hawaiian language immersion programs spread rapidly with some federal funding. In 2013 about 1,400 students are being taught in the Hawaiian language. Another 4,000 students learn Hawaiian as a second language. In 1978 the Hawaiian language became a mandated course in public schools.

In her article Katherine Poythress says that today, the state of Hawaii has 21 immersion schools with about 2,000 students enrolled from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“One of the biggest challenges facing Ka Papahana Kaiapuni (the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program) is that the assessments do not match the language of instruction (instruction in Hawaiian, assessments in English),” says Christopher Yim. Christopher is a former Hawaiian Language Immersion teacher and a current professor at the University of Hawaii where he prepares teachers to instruct in Hawaiian Language Immersion schools.

Translated Assessment Test Full Of Problems

Immersion students in the third and fourth grades historically have taken a special test called the Hawaiian Aligned Portfolio Assessment (HAPA) because they do not receive formal English instruction until the fifth grade. But U.S. federal officials said the HAPA did not meet standards outlined in the federal government’s  No Child Left Behind Act. Last year third- and fourth-graders began taking a Hawaiian translation of the same online Hawaii State Assessment their mainstream peers were taking in English. The translated assessment was riddled with problems though, from technical errors and mistranslations to inaccuracies and test items displaying improperly on students’ computer monitors.

The immersion schools boycotted the state assessment and returned to the HAPA while Department of Education officials worked to fix some of the state assessment test’s issues. But this year, the federal government said the state’s 350-something third- and fourth-grade immersion students must take the translated test. Hawaiian school leaders say that test still does not comply with widely recognized standards for test development.

Parents call the translated test “inadequate” and “an injustice.” Immersion students are performing poorly on it not because they are not learning in their classes, teachers say, but because the test is a crude and inaccurate tool for measuring the students’ educational achievements.

“Tests in Hawaiian currently in use are inadequate and tests in English are not fair for Hawaiian language immersion students,” said Katherine Roseguo, an advocate for the Hawaiian House proposal.

Grave Concerns About Translation Method

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has grave concerns about the translation method for assessing Hawaiian language students not only currently, but as the department develops new tests in the coming years to align with nationally aligned curriculum standards.

“Despite lingering concerns about the validity and accuracy of the translated assessment the (Department of Education) is once again administering the translated assessment instead of an assessment developed originally in the Hawaiian language,” wrote Chief Knowledge Officer Malia Kaaihue in submitted testimony. “The concerns surrounding the translated assessment have become even more pressing in light of the fact that the Board of Education recently adopted the Common Core Standards, and new assessments that align with these standards are expected to be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.”

If the Department of Education wants to take its commitment to the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program, it is going to have to take those and other factors into account, said G. Kalehua Krug, an immersion teacher and parent of immersion students.

“The (Hawaiian Language Immersion Program) has developed curriculum, drafted policy and has engaged the education community at the federal level,” he said. “The final frontier is educational assessment.

“As one of this state’s official languages, the Hawaiian language must be utilized at all levels of educational implementation. If we are allowed to speak to our children, develop curriculum for our children, educate our children, and love our children through this language, then we must assess them through it too. We must not translate our Hawaiian ways of knowing into another language. It must be created and implemented, start to finish, through the Hawaiian language.”

Hawaiian DOE Open To Suggestions

The Department of Education (DOE) is not taking a position on the Hawaiian House bill. While school district officials agree that the Hawaiian language assessment can be improved, they are not sure it’s necessary to do so in the way proposed by the bill. To develop it separately from the English test would require personnel and financial resources the department does not have right now, according to testimony.

The department said it is open to suggestions, but would also need to work with the U.S. Department of Education to make sure any test meets federal requirements.

But advocates for the bill say it’s time to devote significant resources to such a project. They say it’s not just about meaningful measurement of how well students are learning. They believe they are also championing bigger causes like the revival of the Hawaiian language and greater equality for native Hawaiians.

What are your thoughts? Should these Hawaiian language students take the assessment test in English? Why or why not?

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