Schools' shortcomings extend far beyond budget


POSTED: Wednesday, November 04, 2009

When I heard that the founders of eBay donated $50 million to various charities in Hawaii, I began to view Hawaii's Department of Education as a charity.

Beyond the money issues are the poor grading system, low standards and a slow curriculum.

When my daughter started kindergarten, she was reading at first-grade level, writing like an adult, and could spell three letter words. At her report card conference, the teacher said that she was one of two children who could read like that. However, she does not give MEs (”;meets with excellence,”; the equivalent of an “;A”;). “;Otherwise, she wouldn't need to be in kindergarten,”; the teacher explained.

The grading system continues to work against my daughter in first grade. The teacher showed me a rubric that is used to show what a child should know by the end of first grade. Yet that end-of-the-year rubric is used to grade my daughter's first nine weeks' performance. I told the teacher that I have never heard of such a ludicrous grading system. I emphasized that at least half of the first-graders would get an MP (meets with proficiency, similar to a “;B”; or “;C”;). That would indicate to a school with a more traditional grading system that my child was just average.

The teacher admitted that my daughter was in the upper echelon, but still defended the asinine rubric and the assigned grade. On another worksheet with a rubric stapled to it, my daughter did not miss anything, but was given the grade of an MP. I inquired about it and was told that there is no ME for that rubric. So a student deserving an ME (or an “;A”;) won't receive it, because the rubric doesn't allow it.

My oldest daughter started school in Hawaii in second grade after being home-schooled. She already could do story problems, equations, two-digit addition and subtraction. She had a simple story problem of: Sally had 5 apples. John gave her 6 apples. How many apples does she have all together? My daughter figured out that it was an addition problem and wrote the equation, 5+6=11. Her teacher marked it wrong, saying that my daughter did not show her work. I noted the number sentence/equation. “;But she didn't draw circles,”; the teacher replied.

Her class often received a two-problem math test with a typed rubric glued to the front and another to the back of a quarter-sheet of paper. That's a 50-50 chance of passing. Why not more problems? I was told that two problems cover the benchmark.

With tests that had more problems, if she missed one, she got an “;MP”; not an “;ME.”; With the logical “;A, B, C, D, F”; grading system a percentage range like 95-100 is an “;A”;, but here in Hawaii with the silly MEs, MPs, etc., a student can miss just one and not get the highest letter grade. How did such and unfair grading system get endorsed and enforced?

This year my oldest daughter was in fourth grade before I pulled her out to be home-schooled. She had no math tests for a whole nine weeks. There were a few 1-minute pop quizzes containing only simple addition problems, such as 9+3; no two- or three-digit numbers. How backwards! I spent all summer making sure that she knew all of her multiplication tables up to the 12s — for what? Math Investigations, which schools are now using, is too slow.

Thank God that I have a master's degree in education from the mainland so that I can teach my children what they do not get in the public schools here. By the way, this school is rated the highest on Great Schools.com and is on military property. Shocking, huh?


Pearl Watson, a home-schooling parent, lives in Honolulu.