By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.”
So said the pioneering Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, whose work defined a movement and has inspired generations of artists.
But he apparently never met Waiakea Intermediate seventh-grader Anne Nakamoto, 13, and eighth-grader Bradon Miyake, 13.
This week, while the rest of the school will be participating in the second round of mathematics testing for the Hawaii State Assessment, the pair will be resting easy in the knowledge that during the first round in October, they earned the highest scores possible. In fact, Nakamoto and Miyake were the first students in the entire state to ever earn perfect scores on the math section of the assessment test, according to Hawaii Department of Education officials.
Nakamoto explained Tuesday that she initially thought her computer was malfunctioning when it flashed her score on the screen after she completed the test.
“I thought the computer was broken. Then, my teacher, Mr. (Michael) McCumiskey, he almost had a heart attack. … He went ‘Whoa!’” she said with a smile. “I was really happy.”
Miyake said that when his score appeared, he misread it and though it said 400 instead of a perfect 500.
“It took a second. I said ‘Wait, that’s a five, not a four,’” he said.
Later, when his dad, Tracy, picked him up after school, Miyake told him about his score.
“He said, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ He didn’t realize it was 500 out of 500. When I told him, he got more excited,” he said.
The fact that two Waiakea Intermediate students are the only ones in the state to have aced the test is indeed a thrill, said McCumiskey, who has taught both students in his seventh-grade gifted and talented classes.
“It’s absolutely great,” he said. “It runs two ways. One, we can point at these kids and show the positive qualities of their work ethic. That they have that personal pride it takes to succeed. They are examples of how we want all of our students to behave and react. Secondly, it gives these kids a giant badge of honor.”
As for the qualities that allowed them to perform so well, McCumiskey said it was undoubtedly due to their hard work ethic.
“The No. 1 thing is perseverance,” he said. “They are willing to strive for that excellence. To make sure that they come back to areas that need more work. That they don’t move on until they are satisfied that they have done the best they can do on a problem.”
The testing, which is done on computers, allows the students to flag questions they are unsure of, so when they finish the exam, they can return and recheck their work, he explained. And the most successful students are the ones who do just that.
“They don’t get to the end of the test and say, ‘Good, I’m finished,’” he said. “They go back and check their answers and the questions.”
Both students said in an interview on campus Tuesday that they made sure to get plenty of rest before the test, to eat a good breakfast that morning, and to make good use of their time to recheck their answers.
Nakamoto, who hopes to one day be a doctor, said that having a positive outlook was also key.
“I came in thinking that I wanted to try my best and to have a good attitude,” she said.
In addition to providing their peers with proof that success on the exam is attainable, Miyake and Nakamoto have also given the faculty and staff at the school a great point of pride, said eighth-grade math teacher Arlene Cabalce.
“When the kids do really well, we are, of course, very happy,” she said. “But it’s not just due to the teachers. It’s a combination of the support of the parents, and it has a lot to do with the attitude of the students. They have to be willing to work with a problem. … We can feed them formulas and processes, but they have to be the ones who put in the work.”
McCumiskey added that the school has worked hard to foster an environment where academic success is not viewed as “nerdy” or “geeky,” but rather with pride.
Both students said that in general they had received supportive comments from their fellow students. Of course, there have been some instances where people have made light of their accomplishments, but he’s not letting it bother him, said Miyake, who is considering a career path in agricultural engineering.
“We’ve gotten all of the above from people,” he said.
“Some people are calling me Ms. 500,” Nakamoto added with a smile.
The Hawaii State Assessment is administered each year to public school students in grades 3-8 and 10. The results are used to assess schools’ ability to meet or exceed the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act concerning student progress in reading, math and science. The tests are given in three rounds, with testing running from Oct. 15, 2012, to May 17, 2013.
Students in the affected classes must take the exam at least once during the year, but may take it multiple times during the year to improve their final scores.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.