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Hawaii Granted Federal Testing Waiver for Language-Immersion Students

The U.S. Department of Education has granted Hawaii a one-year waiver that will allow the state's Hawaiian-language-immersion students to be tested in that language only.

The state and the University of Hawaii-Manoa developed a field test for Hawaiian-language-immersion students that measures progress toward mastery of academic standards on par with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi sent a letter in January to the federal education department requesting a "double testing" waiver that would allow students taking the field test to forego the English-only Smarter Balanced tests that will be given statewide. (The Smarter Balanced math exams do provide a number of native-language supports, such as glossaries and test directions, but Hawaiian is not one of the languages.)

The state will field test the standardized assessments developed in Hawaiian this spring for approximately 250 3rd and 4th-grade immersion students.

"As parents and Hawaiian Language educators, it is important that our children have every educational opportunity afforded to them, in our Hawaiian language," Kalehua Krug, chair of the statewide Hawaiian Immersion advisory council and a faculty member at the university's College of Education, said in a statement.

"This field test brings us one more step closer to ensuring that this happens. We know the (federal education department) will be closely watching what occurs over the year during the ... field assessment."

Annual standardized tests in language arts and math are federally mandated to measure how well students are learning. While Hawaiian is an official language of the state, the federal education department has treated immersion schools as if instruction is delivered in English when it comes to testing.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the state Board of Education a year ago overhauled its policies guiding Hawaiian education, including a commitment to create and implement appropriate standards and performance assessments for the state education department's immersion program which educates an estimated 2,400 students in Hawaiian in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Previously, immersion students took a test developed and scored by the language program's teachers, but it didn't meet federal testing standards. Students have since been given a straight English-to-Hawaiian translation of the state test, which Hawaiian educators say contains serious grammar and vocabulary errors, the Star-Advertiser reports.

Because English isn't introduced as a subject typically in some Hawaiian schools until the 5th grade, 3rd and 4th-grade immersion students take the translated version of the assessment, while older students take the English version.

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