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Isle schools fare well in national comparison


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Four Big Isle high schools have been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as being among the nation’s best.

Windward Hawaii’s Keaau High and Pahoa High & Intermediate join leeward’s Kealakehe and Kohala high schools as nationally recognized schools in the news magazine’s annual rankings for 2013. A total of 11 schools in the state were highlighted in the listing, which was released in late April.

The high school list, which can be found at, shows comprehensive profiles of more than 21,000 public high schools around the country, and highlights 4,805 of them as the nation’s best. The listing takes into account scores on state assessment tests, student-to-teacher ratios and other benchmarks. The schools are awarded gold, silver or bronze medals for their performance.

Keaau, Pahoa, Kealakehe and Kohala each earned bronze medals. Unlike most other school systems around the country, none of the schools in the state were eligible to win silver or gold medals, because the Hawaii school system did not authorize U.S. News to utilize student scores on AP exams, the ACTs or SATs to formulate college readiness scores, said U.S. News’ director of data research, Robert Morse, in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. The data used in the list also is not the most recent available, dating back to scores and other information collected in 2010-11.

While the highlighted schools may not have put up the highest test scores in the state at that time, they managed to stay competitive and show progress despite dealing with challenges that other schools may not face.

“We call it ‘relative performance,’” Morse said. “In our rankings, we factor in the expected performance of a school given that school’s level of poverty. Relatively speaking, given the impact that being economically disadvantaged has, they’re outperforming their expectations.”

According to a FAQ posting on the U.S. News website, the relative performance calculations mean “that in some cases high schools that have not scored the absolute highest level on state assessment tests will do better in the U.S. News 2013 Best High Schools rankings than higher scoring schools. Those lower scoring schools on state assessment tests are actually doing better on their state tests when compared with other schools in their state with a similar level of economically disadvantaged students.”

In a phone interview last week, Pahoa Principal Darlene Bee said she wasn’t aware that the school had been included in U.S. News listing, but she also wasn’t surprised by her students’ performance.

“We were named one of the country’s best last year, too, when we won a bronze award,” she said. “We’re very, very happy to be included.”

Bee said her school’s success can be traced to the faculty and staff’s ability to work collaboratively.

“We monitor all of the students’ progress, and we share that information among the teachers, so they can adjust their teaching,” she said. “Teachers get feedback on various components, and that helps success.”

The principal added that the Pahoa community and her students’ parents are also important components of that process.

“There’s so many things we’ve done to help the school do better on achievement,” said Keaau Principal Dean Cevallos when he was contacted about the honor last week. “It truly comes down to the faculty believing in themselves, and letting the students show that they can be successful.”

Cevallos credited his faculty with boosting student performance over the past two years, taking the school from being “the lowest achieving school in the state” to being nationally recognized.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, and it’s nice to be able to say that we’re getting recognized for achievement, versus non-achievement,” he said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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