HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's immersion schools, or kaiapuni, fought for years to get standardized testing in the Hawaiian language, but less than half of their students are afforded that opportunity, and they are using an 'Olelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language) translation that's now being challenged.
Hundreds of kaiapuni students took their fight for language equality and fair testing assessment out of the classroom and to the State Capitol today.
All public school students are required to take the Department of Education's Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) test in grades 3 – 8, and again in 10. The state's kaiapuni (immersion schools) successfully got the HAS exam translated into Hawaiian, but the the 'Olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian language) version was never field-tested.
"When you translate a test from one language to another there's questions about validity," explained Baba Yim, a kaiapuni parent and University of Hawai'i at Manoa educator. "We're not asking for no assessment, but the assessment needs to be fair and valid."
Kaiapuni (immersion school) educators want the opportunity to partner with the D.O.E. to develop a linguistically and culturally accurate test. The current exam isn't even written in the state of Hawai'i.
"The expertise is actually located here-- in the children, the teachers, the parents, the administrators of the program-- who've been fighting through this for about 30 years now," said Kalehua Krug, a father of three kaiapuni students, and also an educator with the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
"We're not asking for anything more or above equity. Hawaiian language is an official language of our state so it should receive every consideration that English does and every decision that the D.O.E. makes about educational funding, resources, offices, testing, assessment, curriculum -- whatever considerations they make for English -- those same considerations need to be made for Hawaiian," said Yim.
Since 2002, the D.O.E. has spent $3 million on immersion testing development.
Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of communications for the state Department of Education, says the state is aware of the immersion schools' concerns about the translated test. She says the D.O.E. is committed to ensuring it meets federal and state requirements, along with the needs of all kaiapuni (immersion school) students.
"No other state in the nation has this," said Dela Cruz, adding the state believes in the immersion program and shares it's goals for success. "It's very exciting and we're hopeful this could be a model for other indeginous students in the future."
Legislators say because of funding, only about a fourth of all kaiapuni (immersion school) students are able to take the contested Hawaiian version of the HSA exam.
"This is Hawaii and we have to perpetuate the language, so whatever we can do to do that -- I mean, that's why we have these immersion schools to begin with," said Representative Roy Takumi, the House Chair for the Committee on Education. "In any issue you have to weigh what the need is, what the cost is, how we can work this out."
The majority of kaiapuni (immersion school) students are still taking the HSA test in English. Kaiapuni (immersion school) educators say many students do poorly, because learning in one language and testing in another puts them at a major disadvantage.
Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Anuenue senior Keonaona Kahawai-Javonero agrees. She had to take all of her HSA tests in English.
"Hawaiian was my first language and taking the HSA when I was younger, English was my second language so it was hard for me to understand some math problems and English reading, because I only knew them in Hawaiian so it was hard for me to understand what the paper was saying. So I think I would've done better if it was in Hawaiian," said Kahawai-Javonero in 'Olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian language).
Officials say it's not just the students, but also the schools who suffer.
"That's absolutely one of the biggest concerns, particularly when Hawaiian immersion schools typically have smaller budgets to begin with," said Representative Chris Lee, a member of the House committee on Hawaiian Affairs. "You don't want to under serve folks who deserve support just as much as any other school and any other student body, so right now what we're going to try to do is make sure that we move ahead to force the department or those who have the ability to put the test together to take the steps to rectify the situation and put together a solid test that is going to be good for all students to take and fair."
State legislators are scheduled to review the kaiapuni (immersion school) testing standards in a hearing at the Capitol Wednesday.