Wednesday, November 10, 1999

Teachers union:
State academic
standards vague

Paul LeMahieu, schools
superintendent, says the report
was based on a draft of
the standards

By Crystal Kua


The American Federation of Teachers says most of Hawaii's academic standards are vague.

In its annual "Making Standards Matter," the national teachers union this year pointed particularly to Hawaii's standards for English and social studies, saying they could be clearer and more specific.

But Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said the AFT apparently graded the standards before the department completed them. "A lot of their comments are vague and unclear," LeMahieu said.

The refinement of the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards included the completion of newly revised content standards this past summer. New performance standards are expected to be completed before the end of the year. "Performance standards bring them (content standards) to life, make them even better," LeMahieu said.

Content standards set out what a child should know and be able to do, while performance standards assess how good is good enough.

The AFT says English standards "are not clear or specific at any level. ... The standards are focused heavily on skills at the expense of specific content knowledge."

The report also says social studies standards for elementary grades are not clear or specific.

The AFT said science standards "are significantly stronger than the previous standards document, but they are not clear or specific enough to meet our criteria."

The greatest praise came in the standards for math. "The draft math standards are generally clear and specific and a significant improvement over the previous standards document."

The AFT's report does refer to "draft" standards, and the report also states that "Hawaii is currently writing new content standards in four core subjects."

LeMahieu said there are indications that the AFT critiqued an early version of the content standards outlines. He said the areas that were criticized in the AFT report did not hold true in the final revised content standards.

LeMahieu said other national groups have praised Hawaii's content standards, particularly in language arts.

The Council for Basic Education, another nationally recognized group which grades standards, was a consultant to the department during the standards refinement.

The Council for Basic Education said, "Hawaii has a thoughtful, well-organized set of language arts standards."

LeMahieu said the department also received an unsolicited letter recently from Sheridan Blau, director of the University of California at Santa Barbara South Coast Writing Project, who also praised the language arts standards.

"These are, without question, the most professionally responsible, intellectually sound, pedagogically wise and rhetorically effective set of English Language Arts Content Standards that I have read," wrote Blau, also past president of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Standards critiques like the AFT's are significant. "It counts a lot in the public perception."

That perception is necessary to maintain public support of the standards effort. But LeMahieu also said that it's the content of the critique that is most helpful.

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