DOE will not seek No Child options
Hawaii's public schools won't get leeway from the strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind law under a trial federal government program.
The U.S. Department of Education gave states until Friday to apply for a more flexible way of helping failing schools by targeting money for reforms at campuses with the most needs.
Up to 10 states will be chosen for a pilot program that will allow them to shift money for reforms based on how far below schools are from performance goals.
The state Education Department, which was interested in the so-called "differentiated accountability" program, did not apply because it failed to meet some requirements.
One key shortcoming was the state's lack of grade-specific tests for students who have severe cognitive challenges, said Glenn Hirata, an evaluation specialist with the Education Department. He said the Hawaii State Alternate Assessment contains standards for groups of grades, meaning that a fourth-grader, for example, would be faced with content taught only in sixth grade.
He said that because the alternate test must be comparable to the Hawaii State Assessment given to most students, yet not as hard, adjusting standards for each grade will take time.
"That is what is holding us back, and it's not going to be fixed overnight," Hirata said.
Last year, a new Hawaii State Assessment exam quizzed public school students only on subjects to which they had been exposed, something education officials argue led to the first significant jump in scores in six years.
Results are used by the federal government to determine whether schools are meeting steadily rising proficiency percentages. All students will be required to read and solve math problems at their grade level by 2014.
After last year's test, 184 isle schools, or 65 percent, were found to be on track to reach that goal, but 98 flunked.
Failure to hit benchmarks triggers steadily tightening sanctions. The stiffest is a broad school reform known as "restructuring," which entails intervention by outside educational firms at state expense.
The Education Department also had considered applying for a "growth model," which would have allowed schools to be graded on steady, individual student achievement instead of how groups of students perform.
But the department also decided not to apply for that model, mostly because it is still working on a required system to track students. Last year, the department had its application to adopt a growth model denied, in large part because a panel of experts was not satisfied with the state's ability to identify each student as they move up in grade.