At a Board of Education meeting last week, the Hawaii Department of Education presented the Legislature’s final adjusted biennial budget for school years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, as detailed in HB 500 CD1.

Included in the more than $115 million in DOE budget requests the Legislature decided not to fund was more than $107 million that would have had a direct and specific benefit to school level programs.

One such program that was cut was Achieve3000, an online, differentiated-learning literacy program with a remarkable history of gains for Hawaii’s students.

Achieve3000

Sen. Jill Tokuda, left, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, at an Achieve3000 event in Hawaii. The Legislature cut funding for the program this year.

Achieve3000

Achieve3000 costs $1.92 million a year for 255 DOE schools, which comes out to an average of $7,530 per school, or $11 per student, per year. DOE used its purchasing power to negotiate a 25 percent discount for a statewide contract. Achieve3000 benefits by not having to manage 255 separate accounts and collect payment from each schools’ weighted student formula allocation.

In 2009, the DOE signed a five-year contract with Achieve3000, making the program available to students across the state. Daniel Hamada was the DOE assistant superintendent in charge of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support at that time. Hamada has since returned to the school level, serving as principal at Kapaa High School. He has had a bird’s-eye overview of how impactful Achieve3000 has been for student literacy across the state, and now he observes it working every day, on the ground.

Achieve3000 begins with a reading assessment for each student, delivers material precisely matched to each individual’s reading level, offers multiple choice activities to assess comprehension, and continues to elevate the reading level of the student as the student progresses. The more frequently students use the program, the greater their literacy gains.

Although Achieve3000 was available to all schools since 2009, only 216 schools were actively using it in the beginning. Schools that were not using the program created a baseline which allowed the DOE to contrast performance on the Hawaii State Assessment.

According to an August 2010 presentation, “99 percent of Hawaii Department of Education schools that used Achieve3000 solutions and completed 40 or more multiple choice reading activities on average per user met the proficiency requirement for their overall HSA reading scores, outperforming the schools that did not use Achieve3000 Solutions by 15 percentage points.” Forty reading activities come out to an average of just one activity a week.

The data shows that depending on their grade, students could have jumped as much two reading grade levels in one year by using the Achieve3000 program.

A scientific tool for measuring reading level and growth has been developed and trademarked as “Lexile.” A student’s Lexile score creates a quantifiable way to identify and compare where they are at a given point to how much they have improved after a particular intervention.

If you look at a range of Lexile scores for grades 1-12 you will notice that there is a 200-point jump from grade 1 to grade 2, and from grade 2 to grade 3; but then it begins to narrow to a 100-point jump between grade 4 to grade 5; and continues to narrow down to a 30-point jump between grade 9 and grade 10.

This is important to keep in perspective because according to the DOE’s presentation on Achieve3000, students who were doing 80 or more reading activities a year, or two activities a week, had an average Lexile gain of 181 points. Students who used the program 40-79 times a year had an average Lexile gain of 140 points. Whereas, expected growth for students who did not use Achieve3000 was only an average Lexile gain of 86 points. This means that, depending on their grade, students could have jumped two reading grade levels in one year.

Achieve3000

Test scores indicate that the more Achieve3000 sessions a student completes, the greater his/her gains in reading proficiency.

According to two recent analyses of Hawaii’s use of Achieve3000, prepared in July 2014 and February 2015, there are approximately 120,000 student users and 6,000 teachers and 6,000 parents/guardians using the program to track learning and support students. Up to 68 percent of users were logging into the program after school hours.

Despite this increasing popularity and continued measurable gains for Hawaii’s students, the Legislature would not support Achieve3000’s $1.92 million contract renewal. Instead, Legislators earmarked $1.2 million for a bunch of “grant-in-aid” add-ons, like a “Leilehua Alumni Association,” that the DOE never requested.

At a BOE meeting last month, Board Member Amy Asselbaye sought confirmation from the DOE that  schools would have to pay for the Achieve3000 program from each of their own weighted student formula allotments. (The Legislature did provide the DOE with the $2.4 million increase to the weighted student formula fund to address the projected increase to enrollment for school-year 2015-2016.) The DOE responded that given this new funding challenge, only 50 of the 255 schools were interested in continuing this program.

It is unclear what would happen to all of those student accounts if the other 205 schools dropped Achieve3000. This could turn out to be the lowest point of the school/principal empowerment movement. What other learning intervention has had such measurable successes when it comes to improving literacy? When principals and School Community Councils prioritize their spending, what is more foundational to their mission than reading?

Looking back at his time as Assistant Superintendent, Hamada said that initiating the partnership with Achieve3000 has proven to be one of his proudest accomplishments when it comes to supporting student learning. The program’s measurable positive impact on literacy gains for DOE students should give Principal Hamada great pride. It should also give those principals who are considering abandoning this program great pause.

About the Author

  • Kim Coco Iwamoto
    Kim Coco Iwamoto was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006 and served until 2011. She also served on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board from 2009 to 2011 and the Career & Technical Education Coordinating Advisory Council from 2007 to 2011. She was appointed to a four-year term on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2012.