Standards raised for middle school in Hawai'i
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Education Writer
Middle school in Hawai'i will soon get a lot tougher.
Next school year, public-school students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades will not only have to take classes in language arts, math, science and social studies, but they will have to pass each class to move on to the next grade.
As it is now, students technically only have to take certain classes not always pass them.
Educators are raising expectations for students in a new climate of accountability, and the state Department of Education also plans to increase the requirements for eighth-graders to move from middle school to high school after the 2007-2008 school year.
"We're making it more rigorous," said Katherine Sakuda, an educational specialist at the DOE.
Many educators believe the new requirements are overdue and will not lead to a substantial increase in the number of students held back.
"I think they'll be able to do it. I'm confident," said Nancy Soderberg, the principal at Konawaena Middle School on the Big Island, who was part of a task force that developed the requirements.
Middle-school students are already expected to take classes in core subjects and encouraged to experiment with different electives before they get to high school, where there is less room for failure.
But the DOE wants to specify that middle-school students must take and pass core subjects each year.
The state Board of Education is considering whether to require high school students to have an extra two credits to graduate by 2010, and the middle-school changes are an attempt to better prepare students for high school.
By the 2007-2008 school year, eighth-graders will have to earn 15 units 12 from core subjects during the sixth, seventh and eighth grades for promotion to high school. Today, sixth grade is not typically counted as middle school because many middle schools do not have sixth grades, so students must have at least eight units during seventh and eighth grades to move on to high school.
Teachers have found disciplinary problems among some eighth-graders who know they have enough courses for high school.
Students who fail a class in a core subject will now be held back, at least on paper, until they pass the class. While they would remain at that lower grade level, they could take other classes at the next grade level and could go on to high school.
In the 2001-2002 school year, more than 2,000 eighth-graders, or about 16 percent, failed a class in at least one core subject, according to the DOE. But only 2 percent technically repeated the eighth grade. Nine percent of those students stayed at middle school; 80 percent went on to high school and likely took remedial classes; while 11 percent either dropped out, moved out of state or left the public-school system.
Soderberg said schools will work with students having trouble, either at breaks during the school year or during the summer, to make up classes. Complex-area superintendents, after consulting with principals, teachers and parents, will have the final decision on whether struggling students would stay at their school or move up.
"You always take into account what's best for the student," said Katherine Kawaguchi, an assistant superintendent in the DOE's Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support.
At a BOE committee meeting yesterday, Kawaguchi also said that new school community councils, required under the state Legislature's education-reform package, could have a role in developing electives at middle schools. Some school band leaders have worried that the stronger focus on core subjects could limit the time and resources for student activities.
Middle schools will have to give students the opportunity to earn six units a year; four in core subjects and two electives.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com or 525-8084.