Hawaii schools adopting national curriculum standards
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
Students in Hawai'i will soon be held to the same expectations as students in California or Wisconsin or almost any other state, under common national standards adopted by the state Board of Education — standards that will influence every aspect of education in the next year, from curriculum and textbooks to student assessments.
Beginning next school year, education officials will begin widespread professional development and training to prepare public school teachers for the shift to common educational standards in math and English.
A total of 48 states have agreed to the standards to create alignment across state lines for the teaching and learning occurring in the nation's classrooms.
The movement led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices is a voluntary effort by the majority of states to adopt common standards that will in theory expose the country's schoolchildren to academic environments with improved rigor that prepares them for college and careers.
Alaska and Texas are the only two states that have declined membership in the common core movement.
Once the standards are implemented in the 2011-12 school year, the vast majority of public schools in Hawai'i and nationwide will base their teaching on the same set of standards for the first time.
Performance standards dictate the knowledge that students are expected to gain in their grade level, but currently no two states' expectations are the same.
While the new common standards will represent a dramatic shift for the nation — for the first time state test scores will be comparable from state to state — Hawai'i officials say the new expectations will not be far from the standards already in place in the state's schools.
"It's validation that we've been on the right track," said Ronn Nozoe, acting deputy superintendent of schools. "We've set very high standards for our students, and have struggled with these very high standards. But what we know from taking a very detailed look at what the common core standards look like in their near-final form, we know that there is a close alignment with what we currently have in place."
Hawai'i was among five states to receive an "A" rating in a recent Harvard study on state education standards and their alignment to national expectations and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the only standardized test that is currently comparable across state lines.
A majority of states received "C" ratings on their proficiency standards and one state — Tennessee — chosen as a recent winner in the federal Race to the Top competition received an "F" for its content standards' alignment to national benchmarks.
The common core standard movement began last year when the majority of the nation's governors agreed to the creation of common standards that ensure public school students have the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the increasingly global economy. Gov. Linda Lingle and Department of Education then-Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto signed the agreement in June along with 47 other states, two territories and the District of Columbia.
Although common standards are considered voluntary, the federal government, as part of its criteria for Race to the Top competitive grant money, has decided to judge states based on their participation in the movement.
President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have both said common standards are part of the current federal efforts to reform public education and revamp No Child Left Behind.
The Hawaii Content and Performance Standards, or HCPS III, currently in place are the principles that guide teachers in the instruction of their grade levels or subject areas.
For example, state standards dictate that a third-grader in the first quarter of language arts should be able to write a friendly letter or a response to a piece of literature. An eighth-grader in his third quarter of math should be able to demonstrate the inverse relationship between square numbers and square roots, and between cubes and cubed roots. A senior in his fourth quarter of English should be able to write poems using a range of poetic techniques, figurative language and a variety of forms.
But those standards may not be the same in other states. That may cause redundancy if a student from Hawai'i moves to a different state, said Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. For instance, a student may end up having to relearn William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" if he moves from Hawai'i to a state where classic literature is taught in a later grade.
Each state having its own education standards also means that No Child Left Behind test scores cannot be compared, Hamada said.
There have long been arguments that Hawai'i's education system is failing in comparison to other states, but varying state standards, lack of comparable tests and disputed national studies have made direct comparisons impossible.
The new common core standards would change that.
"The main plus with the common core is consistency. Whether you're a third-grade class in Michigan or Hawai'i, you're going to be on the same page," Hamada said.
The cost of switching over to the common core standards is likely to be absorbed in the operational budget of the public school system, with most of the costs coming in the form of new textbook purchases and professional development.
Total costs are still uncertain, but officials say they hope money that potentially could be obtained through the next round of the federal Race to the Top competition could go toward implementing common core standards.
It's likely that the state will have to dedicate millions to a large-scale purchase of textbooks aligned to the new national standards. Already, the nation's textbook industry is preparing to update materials to reflect the new standards, Nozoe said.
NEW TEXTS, TESTS
Interim Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has already ordered a moratorium on textbook purchases until the common core standards are in place, to save resources for a mass textbook purchase down the road.
Adopting common core standards will also mean that the Hawaii State Assessment exam, the main measurement used under No Child Left Behind, will have to be revamped to reflect the new national expectations, said Cara Tanimura, director of DOE's Systems Accountability office.
Work has already begun on bridging the current exam, based on the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards, with the new common core standards, though an exam fully reflecting the new expectations may not be rolled out until the 2014-2015 school year, Tanimura said.
"We don't just switch the test. Teachers need time to teach it and students will need time to learn it. And we will need time to create a test that is aligned to the new standards," Tanimura said.
An estimated $350 million in federal grant money is available to the consortium of states participating in the common core movement, money that should be specifically used to develop common core assessments, Tanimura said. The state plans to seek those grants, she said.
"We are waiting for information from the consortium on how all the states plan to handle this transition period," Tanimura said.
Once fully implemented, the new HSA exam will better reflect how Hawai'i students are doing compared to their counterparts across the nation.
About 65 percent of public school students were proficient in reading on the HSA last year. Likewise, 44 percent of students demonstrated proficiency in math. But those numbers mean nothing when looking at the results of other state exams.
"This will really provide us with a great opportunity to compare our students and our achievement with students across the country on the same scale," Tanimura said, adding she believes the results on common core will invalidate arguments that Hawai'i's students are significantly behind their peers.
"Those arguments will always exist, but it will be much harder for people to say that," Tanimura said.
HAWAI'I STANDARDS VS. NATIONAL COMMON CORE STANDARDS
Here's an example of how Hawai'i's eighth-grade math standards compare with the recently adopted common core standards agreed to by 48 states.
A few Hawai'i standards that are the same as national standards:
• Understand that a function is linear if it can be expressed in the form y = mx + b or if its graph is a straight line. For example, the function y = x2 is not a linear function because its graph contains the points (1,1), (–1,1) and (0,0), which are not on a straight line.
• Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by reading a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.
• Evaluate expressions that define functions, and solve equations to find the input(s) that correspond to a given output.
A few additional national standards that would need to be added:
• Solve linear equations with rational number coefficients, including equations that require expanding expressions using the distributive law and collecting like terms.
• Understand that the slope of a nonvertical line in the coordinate plane has the same value for any two distinct points used to compute it. This can be seen using similar triangles.
• Understand that two lines with well-defined slopes are parallel if and only if their slopes are equal.