Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Isle school
problems are
being addressed,
LeMahieu says

Hawaii receives poor
marks in a report card
from Education Week

By Crystal Kua


Hawaii received low marks today in a national education report card, but they are a reflection of acknowledged deficiencies that are already being addressed, according to officials here.

Education Week newspaper released Quality Counts 2000, an annual report, which grades states' efforts to improve education.

State Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said that this year's grades aren't much different from last year's but he said that the message accompanying the 2000 report is encouraging.

"It says, 'You got a late start but everything you're doing is on the right track,' " LeMahieu said.

Quality Counts gave Hawaii a "D+" for standards and accountability, ranking fourth from the bottom among all states.

The report indicated that Hawaii's standards lacked clarity and specificity in English, social studies and science, while math standards at all grade levels were clear and specific.

Hawaii is also missing tests aligned to the standards and an accountability system.

"No one in the state should be surprised," LeMahieu said.

The grade is not a shock, LeMahieu said, because the Department of Education has only completed revisions to its content standards. Work continues on developing performance standards, tests to gauge student achievement and a system of rewards, assistance and sanctions to hold schools accountable.

Lynn Olson, project editor of Quality Counts, said states' efforts to revamp standards are not taken into consideration in the grading.

"Whenever we look at things, we're looking at what's actually on the ground," Olson said.

"If there are revisions under way, the grade may not reflect it," she said.

Olson said Quality Counts based standards clarity ratings on a November report released by the American Federation of Teachers, which called isle standards vague.

LeMahieu noted that the AFT's grades were based on an early draft -- and not the final version -- of Hawaii's revised content standards. But even if the teacher's union had seen the final version, the grade would probably not be much different because the product is incomplete.

This year's report focuses on teacher quality, another area in which Hawaii scored poorly. Hawaii's grade of a "D" for improving teacher quality fell from last year's "C."

Quality Counts looked at teacher assessment, teaching in field, professional support and training, and teacher education in this category.

"Hawaii has some of the basic elements but it could do more," Olson said.

This year's criteria in grading the states' efforts to improve teacher quality changed from last year so state grades in that category declined overall.

Olson said that improving teacher quality is a hot topic. "This is really important to education. As states have raised standards for students, none of that matters if teachers can't teach to those standards."

Loopholes in the laws of nearly all states allow people to enter teaching even though they lack basic skills, according to the report.

Hawaii is no different.

Sharon Mahoe, executive director of the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, agreed improvement is needed in many areas cited by the report.

Efforts are already under way, she said. "The quality of a teacher is one of the most influential factors in improving student achievement."

For example, Hawaii is seeking to become a partner state of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, which came up with recommendations on how to improve teacher quality.

"We're going to be studying those recommendations as they might apply to Hawaii," Mahoe said. "We will be doing a policy inventory so that we have a better sense overall on what we need to do to impact teacher quality."

Polices and lack of resources are some of the obstacles to overcome in improving teacher quality, Mahoe said.

For example, efforts to establish mentoring and induction programs -- which Quality Counts advocates -- to prevent teachers from leaving the field after a couple of years have only been done in pocket areas and not statewide.

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