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Chelsea Keehne, with Kamehameha Schools’ Kealaiwikuamoʻo Division, is at the forefront of an effort to rethink assessments for students across the pae ʻāina.

Kamehameha Schools education leader wants to revolutionize student testing

Sept. 28, 2023

Filling in bubbles? Out. Regurgitating formulas. Very much out.

Instead, Chelsea Keehne — senior project manager at Kamehameha Schools’ Kealaiwikuamoʻo Division, which supports a network of Native Hawaiian schools across the islands — wants to challenge educators, parents, and the community to think about how students could be assessed with an emphasis on the types of learning that will stay with haumāna for a lifetime (rather than for the cramming period needed to ace a fill-in-the-bubbles test).

Her work at charter schools across the state is at the cutting edge of broader efforts in education to revolutionize student performance assessments, focusing on hands-on projects and skills demonstrations so students can showcase work that puts learning into action. Such efforts to create systemic changes across the landscape of Hawaiian education is part of what KS Kaiāulu is all about.

KS Kaiāulu brings together KS’ scholarships, online learning resources, community resource centers, and community partners’ programs supported through KS Kaiāulu. Its offerings aim to grow ʻōiwi leaders—people who use their knowledge, skill, and passion to strengthen Hawaiʻi, its people, and our global community.

Core to Keehne’s work within KS Kaiāulu is ensuring schools are setting students up for success.

“If you are looking for an effective surgeon, are you just going to look at where they went to medical school or are you going to research their surgical effectiveness and success rate?” Keehne asked.

“There’s no job in the world where adults sit around offering answers to multiple choice questions.”

Keehne’s initiatives through the Kealaiwikuamoʻo Division aren’t just driving positive change in the islands, they’re getting noticed nationally. Recently, she — along with leaders at charter schools she’s working with — were invited to discuss their reimagined approach to student assessments at a KnowledgeWorks Trailblazers Summit showcasing educational innovation.

Seniors with Kawaikini New Century Public Charter School in Līhuʻe, Kauaʻi work on their kapa while also using technology to support learning and collaboration. This is part of the Hōʻike Capstone Project Assessment that was designed by kumu ʻAlohilani Rogers. The project culminates with students wearing the kīhei they created at their graduation ceremony and delivering an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi oral presentation of their research paper to an audience of ʻāina and community partners.

“When we participated in the summit, a key recommendation that surfaced arose from the fact that the charter schools had already been applying two complementary tools, the HFCS Process Rubric to assess school performance and a second tool, ʻĀina-based Assessments that measure student proficiency,” Keehne said. “There was interest from other school systems across the nation in replicating the paired HFCS assessment tools in their own contexts and it was reaffirming to see our locally developed charter school assessments being valued by a broader national audience.”

Keehne said that the central focus of the summit was to craft a forward-looking vision for assessing school quality and student outcomes. The recommendations developed at the event were collected to inform policymakers, national educational leaders and philanthropic organizations as they look to support (and invest in) innovative and rigorous school accountability and assessment systems.

One key takeaway of the summit — and of the work Keehne is doing — is that many conventional assessments were developed with one goal in mind, yet are being used to rate performance on something else entirely. For example, results from multiple-choice tests are often used to rate school quality even though that was never the purpose of standardized assessments, which were created to measure student understanding during key years in their educational journey.  Those same tests are also high-stakes for students, despite years of research that shows they disadvantage students from minority and low-income households.  Findings from studies have revealed that less than two percent of math and less than 21 percent of language arts standardized assessments measure higher level thinking, the kind of thinking needed for success in any position and in everyday life.

That’s why Keehne said there’s an intentional effort at the schools she’s working with to conduct assessments that rate school quality separately from determining what students have actually learned. Assessments are school developed and include a range of cognitively rigorous tasks that require students to demonstrate their understanding through the creation of cultural artifacts, academic work, and hōʻike.

“The schools that we’re working with have been developing assessments that measure the Hawaiian-focused Charter School Vision of the Graduate, which includes not only college and career readiness but also cultural and community readiness,” Keehne said, adding each school is tailoring assessments to key transition grades determined by school leaders and community stakeholders. “The hope is these schools can begin to champion these assessments, eventually allowing the schools to weight them more heavily or just as heavily as mandated standardized assessments,” Keehne added.

The charter schools are also aware that 80 percent of higher education admissions processes across the nation are currently standardized test-optional, which provides the opportunity for culturally relevant assessments to play a more prominent role than SAT scores and GPAs.  Keehne said new performance-based assessments can include Hōʻike Capstone Projects from preschool through grade 12 that provide students the opportunity to dive into a culture-based, community-driven, hands-on project that is presented to an authentic audience.

“I see our role as supporters of the culture-based education efforts that Hawaiian-focused charter schools have been leading since their inception in the early 2000s,” Keehne said, speaking about her office. “They’re often too humble about the hard work they invest in many facets of their programs. The reason why these schools are able to develop such rich assessments is because the poʻo kumu and kumu are extremely philosophically aligned about creating assessments that measure their unique school missions and visions.”

ʻĀina-based Education

ʻĀina-based learning experiences allow learners to create authentic, reciprocal relationships with the land, people, and resources of a specific community. This becomes an integral part of the learner’s identity and a catalyst for a personal commitment to the health and well-being of that community. It is situated in learning that honors the past, present and future in order to ensure the sustainability and productivity of all forms of life. More specifically, ʻāina-based education embodies the wisdom of the ʻōlelo noʻeau: ‘O ka hā o ka ʻāina, ke ola o ka poʻe (The health of the land is the health of the people).

culture-based education,education innovation,native hawaiian identity

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