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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hawai'i public schools need new strategy

The Department of Education should learn its lesson.

Once again, the annual test scores are so bad for students in Hawai'i's public schools that 66 percent of schools failed to meet state goals as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The law was intended to bring accountability to our public schools. But Hawai'i officials have yet to fully align standards, teaching curriculum and tests to meet the challenge of the new law.

The results show it. And now nearly two-thirds of our schools face some imposed changes. In fact, the number of schools that have consistently fallen short of state goals has soared from 29 last year to some 50 today.

That triggers a variety of actions, ranging from extra tutoring to complete restructuring or takeover. The bill for such work last year was $7.9 million; it will be much more this year.

It's obvious our schools need a new strategy one that assures that standards reflect what is taught in the classroom and capture what students are tested on in the state exam.

Currently, the state has more than 1,000 benchmarks of learning that set a standard for all grade levels. The state tests are based on those benchmarks.

But when it comes to the classroom, there is no uniform curriculum that teachers must follow. What's more, there's no clear way of assuring what's being taught in classrooms matches the state standards.

The state Legislature tried to pass a bill last session that would require a mandatory state curriculum, but failed. That's the least that can be done next year to help our schools do better under the No Child guidelines.

For next year, the district has already adopted standards for individual grades and changed the test accordingly. But the DOE still insists on a high "blue ribbon" standard instead of one for average achievers. That's admirable, but we should not be afraid of looking at our policies on standards and testing to deal with the realities of the No Child law, where failing schools face expensive and often traumatic "restructuring."

Hawai'i is seeking an exemption from some of the more rigid requirements of the No Child law, which would allow schools to be judged on the basis of progress of students rather than their achievement against an arbitrary standard.

That makes sense.

But it is unlikely Hawai'i will opt out of the law altogether. So, until the federal law is reformed, the DOE should more vigorously align its methods to meet the No Child guidelines.