School standards draw federal concern
The federal Department of Education says some aspects of Hawaii's academic standards and testing systems are not in compliance with federal law, and they are demanding corrective steps.
The first nationwide review of state systems under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law did not find fault with Hawaii's systems themselves, but said the state must merely show more proof that the systems have been devised and executed properly.
"They are not saying in any way in that our systems are inadequate. They're just asking for more documentation," said Robert McClelland, planning and evaluation director for the state Department of Education.
Hawaii has earned a clean bill of health in previous systems reviews, but with the Bush administration committed to enforcing its signature education law, federal authorities are "drawing a line in the sand to indicate what is expected of states," McClelland said.
Hawaii is not alone in the doghouse. It is one of 36 states or territories that have been asked to tighten up. Just 10 have earned full approval so far.
Among the various demands, federal authorities want to see more outside studies confirming the validity of the state's academic standards system, which spells out what students at each grade level should know, as well as how students are tested on it.
They also want more detailed documentation proving that all students who are required to be tested are indeed tested, partly to ensure that lower-achieving students are not excluded from test results used to determine school-by-school compliance with federal achievement targets.
Education officials are still studying what systems may be needed to meet such a requirement in all 281 public schools.
"The cost of that could be quite substantial because it would mean visiting each and every school," said Selvin Chin-Chance, the state's head of testing development and administration.
If Hawaii fails to submit a viable plan to comply, authorities will restrict 10 percent, or about $46,000, of the administrative funds for the federal Title 1 program, which provides millions to the state each year for schools with low-income students.
However, that money would not be taken away but merely put into the general Title 1 pot that is disbursed to schools.
"We wouldn't end up losing any money at all," McClelland said.
However, McClelland is "very optimistic" Hawaii will be able to resolve the issues satisfactorily.