Report gives isles an ‘F’
for poor math standards

State officials disagree with the
philosophy behind the poor grade

Most states have "sorely inadequate" standards for student performance in math and Hawaii's deserves an F grade, according to a report issued today by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an educational think tank.

But Hawaii educators said their standards are rigorous and are modeled on those of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, whose approach the Fordham Foundation dismisses.

"Philosophically, Hawaii and the Fordham Foundation are on opposite ends of the pedagogical spectrum," said Wesley Yuu, acting math specialist for the state Department of Education. "The Fordham Foundation emphasizes that there is one way to solve problems and arrive at the solution, whereas Hawaii emphasizes multiple ways to solve rigorous problems."

Standards specify the skills and knowledge students ought to learn in school, and are a key element in the federal effort to hold schools accountable for performance under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In its report, the foundation traced the source of what it considers weakness in math standards to an "unfortunate embrace of the advice of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics."

The Washington, D.C.-based foundation gave Hawaii an F for its math standards and the rest of the states an average of a "high D." California, Indiana and Massachusetts were the only states to earn A's. The foundation has no connection with Fordham University.

"There is little that can be salvaged in Hawaii's mathematics standards, which are nearly devoid of serious content and are the worst in the country," said foundation director Justin Torres.

The think tank, which emphasizes a "back to basics" approach, faulted states for not stressing memorization of facts and formulas, and letting students rely too much on calculators rather than pencil-and-paper calculations. It also criticized Hawaii's standards for giving short shrift to high school algebra and introducing calculus concepts too early.

Assistant Superintendent Kathy Kawaguchi said Hawaii's standards are designed to help students understand the reasons behind the formulas they need to memorize.

"Simply memorizing without understanding what you're doing is not going to facilitate your ability to extrapolate to new situations, which is the basis of education," she said.

The foundation also issued a report today on English standards, and gave Hawaii a C in that category.

The Fordham Foundation's reports can be found at www.edexcellence.net. The Department of Education's response is at doe.k12.hi.us under "News."

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