Schools need flexibility, 'core curriculum' to improve
Twenty states, including Hawaii, are asking to alter the way the No Child Left Behind Act requires them to measure student progress.
HAWAII is among 20 states seeking flexibility in the way the federal No Child Left Behind law requires measurement of progress of public school students, and a new study supports the need for change. Students should be evaluated individually rather than as different grade levels of students, as the law dictates, in preparing them for college and the workplace.
A study by Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization aimed at raising state education standards, found that Hawaii is among 15 states that lack plans to coordinate high school studies with employers' and colleges' needs.
Hawaii is below the national average in all five categories measured by Achieve -- comparison of high school standards with real-world expectations, alignment of high school graduation requirements with colleges and jobs, use of high school tests for college admissions, new systems to track students' performance after high school and how high schools are held accountable.
Requests will be granted for only 10 states to track the progress of individual students. If rejected, Hawaii will be forced to continue showing improvement in student scores in successive grades, according to No Child Left Behind's restrictive dictates. For example, the reading and math proficiencies of the state's sixth-graders are compared with those of the previous year's sixth-graders, instead of measuring the progress of the same students as they pass to the next grade.
About half of Hawaii's schools missed recent test-score targets and are under federal sanctions. Those include allowing students to transfer to schools with better scores in early grades and requiring state reforms of repeatedly failing schools.
The Achieve study points out that expectations for high school graduates across the nation have failed to keep pace with demands in the workplace and at the university level. "The result is that the American high school diploma has lost its currency," it asserts.
David H. Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, made the same point in an opinion column in Sunday's Insight section. He blamed the failure on a "curriculum void," the lack of specific guidelines for levels of study in particular areas of knowledge.
A grade-by-grade "core knowledge" curriculum initiated by a Florida elementary school principal who presented it to educators, media and business representatives a decade ago was adopted by Solomon Elementary in 1998 and by Kauluwela Elementary a year later. By 2002, Rolf wrote, those two schools were the only ones among 100 high-poverty schools in Hawaii that had achieved their annual progress goals four years in a row.
The state Senate and House education chairmen are reviewing legislation to implement such a grade-by-grade curriculum in all Hawaii public schools. The state Department of Education should not need legislation to initiate such methodology on its own.