Hawaii schools graded poor

Apart from a top-ranked “A” in how it distributes resources statewide — tagged with a footnote that explains the islands’ unusual statewide educational system— Hawaii schools ranked mostly fair to poor across a variety of categories, according to Education Week, the nation’s leading education journal. In Quality Counts 2003, the magazine’s seventh annual survey of the nation’s largest school districts, Hawaii consistently ranked among the bottom ten in student achievement, and earned a “D-plus” in Standards and Accountability. Hawaii also earned a “C-minus” for Improving Teacher Quality and School Climate, and a “B-minus” for adequacy of resources.

The state’s student achievement scores from the year 2000, the latest year data was available, found that only 14 percent of fourth graders and 16 percent of eighth graders are proficient or better in math, and 16 percent of fourth graders and 15 percent of 8th graders are proficient or better in science.

The scores came from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered the definitive assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. The NAEP is compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education.

On standards, the Education Week report noted that the 2001 teacher’s strike led to the cancellation of a planned, first-ever statewide test to assess student performance in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10, based on the Hawaii Department of Education’s standard curriculum. The “D-plus” grade was based in part on the fact that the state lacked “standards that are clear, specific, and grounded in content” in English, Social Studies and History.

In this year’s survey, teachers were the primary focus. In an interview with Education Week, Amy Yamashita, the state Department of Education’s head administrator for certified personnel, conceded that the state needs to improve its knowledge of its 11,000 teachers. “We know who’s certified in what, but we don’t always know what they’re teaching,” she said.

Expected federal funding under the 2001 “No Child Left Behind” is expected to help in those efforts.

Teacher training, retention, and recruitment are also top priorities, the report stated. Because Hawaii’s teacher education programs produce fewer than half the teachers needed to fill the state’s classrooms, heavy recruitment of mainland teachers is needed. Yet, Yamashita said, out-of-state teachers stay in the islands an average of only three years. The state has offered a variety of incentives retention bonuses.

Hawaii has 261 public schools, packed with 185,000 students, according to the Education Week survey. Annual education expenditures of $1.3 billion are expected to educate a student body in which nearly 80 percent are minority students, 15 percent are living in poverty, nearly 12 percent have disabilities and nearly 7 percent are learning English as a second language.

Hawaii also has 25 charter schools. The report noted new legislation passed last year boosted the resources available to them.

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