Thursday, August 11, 2005


Changing standards
are worthwhile if
students flourish


The Department of Education is streamlining academic standards for public school students.

REVISING academic standards for Hawaii's public schools goes hand in hand with changes in the test the state Department of Education administers to students, but the modifications should not be viewed as lowering the bar for achievement.

The changes in both could result in students scoring better on the test that is the basis for evaluating schools under the burdensome federal education law. If so, the scores could well be attributed to the tighter focus by teachers and students on lesson content and correcting ambiguities in test questions.

Academic standards, broad concepts that public school students are expected to master by certain grade levels, are altered from time to time as data from testing and other sources indicate a need.

At one point during the 1990s, Hawaii schools had 1,500 detailed standards, an impractical number that had dubious value. The department is trimming the current 139 standards to 75 by combining several into one and by removing those that overlap, which will help teachers manage principles and instruction.

In conjunction, the Hawaii State Assessment, the exam given to measure student performance, will be revised to reflect the changes.

The department emphasizes that neither of those actions will reduce the high benchmarks Hawaii's schools have set for achievement even as pressure has increased because of the No Child Left Behind law, which places sanctions on schools falling short of its prescribed proficiency levels.

The law and its penalties have prompted school systems elsewhere to fashion tests they calculate most of its students can pass. Hawaii has been insistent on maintaining a test that is considered one of the most rigorous in the country.

Though critics say the conviction is like shooting yourself in the foot, it reflects the importance that public and state leaders place on education, and points the way toward progress in the long term for a school system that has struggled to turn out graduates prepared for good jobs and higher learning.

The commitment has its costs. The state is spending millions of dollars to provide under-performing schools with technological and professional support. Meanwhile, education reform measures have been implemented to change how schools are governed. This remains a contentious point between Governor Lingle and state lawmakers and will likely be broached again at the next legislative session.

The focus on testing has been drawing more concern recently from parents and education experts who fear that it narrows students' learning at the expense of arts and physical activity. The department should look for ways to incorporate such fields.

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