Graphic: Emily Metcalf
Graphic: Emily Metcalf

BY KATHRYN MATAYOSHI – Last week, we recognized Enchanted Lake, Heeia, and Hokulani Elementary Schools for several years of notable improvements in student learning. We also recognized seven outstanding teachers, naming Kailua High’s Chad Miller as Hawaii’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. Rather than standing as isolated islands of excellence, these schools and teachers are, in fact, at the forefront of much more dramatic change.

Student performance across the entire state is on the rise. New data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) allow us to compare the overall performance of Hawaii’s 4th and 8th grade students to their peers from across the country. The results are striking:

  • Gains are widespread. This year, Hawaii was the only state in the country where student achievement improved across the board: significant growth occurred in both mathematics and English in 4th and 8th grade.
  • Gains are sustained. Over the past eight years, Hawaii’s performance growth places us among the top five states nationally.
  • Gains are at the national forefront. This year, Hawaii’s performance is among the top three states compared to the twelve states that were awarded the highly competitive federal Race to the Top award.

For critics at home and on the Mainland, it is worth recapping how these hard-earned gains were won:

First, the Hawaii Department of Education has required a standards-based education for every student since 2001. Our standards are rigorous when compared nationally.  A 2010 Harvard University study ranked Hawaii’s standards as sufficiently challenging to meet the expectations of the competitive global economy.  Our teachers and administrators have persevered in providing quality educational experiences based on these standards, in spite of challenges particularly as financial resources have become scarce.

Second, while other states reacted to No Child Left Behind’s call for greater accountability by watering down their assessments or lowering the score required to pass, Hawaii’s tests and cut scores have remained consistently demanding.

Other states have also pursued standards without seeing the steady gains over the last eight years. What else makes Hawaii exceptional? We, unlike any other state in the nation, are one school district. That means that reforms, crafted with students and the classroom in mind, reach every school and every classroom.

Yet we are not satisfied. We realize that there is much work to be done to ensure that all of our students graduate from our high schools college and career ready. We are on the right path, and the Governor, Board of Education, state and district offices, and school level teachers and administrators now share a strategic direction. Hawaii’s successful Race to the Top award provides needed investment and welcome pressure to accelerate our trajectory toward achieving the high expectations for every child.

In the months and years ahead, we will continue to expect more for students and of ourselves. Specifically, Hawaii’s parents, students and residents can expect:

  • Standards and high school graduation requirements that continue to be challenging and help our students to compete internationally;
  • School accountability that looks beyond a single test score to gauge how successful our schools are in helping students achieve their goals; and,
  • Individual  accountability for results that better reflect student performance and progress, with responsibility for the results shared by state office leadership, complex area superintendents, school administrators and teachers.

Community support was a hallmark of our Race to the Top application, and Hawaii won despite the odds. These results on the Nation’s Report Card renew our confidence that we will achieve our performance goals.  Everyone, from parents to policy makers to educators, should be inspired to build on this early success.

Kathryn Matayoshi is the superintendent of education for the Hawaii Department of Education

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