Study Rates Hawaii State Education Standards a ‘C’

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    A new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation finds that the K-12 academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics produced last month by the Common Core State Standards Initiative are clearer and more rigorous than those currently in use in 37 states and today’s math standards in 39 states. In 33 of those states, the Common Core bests both ELA and math standards.

    The study rates Hawaii State education standards a “C:”


    Language Arts

    Among Hawaii’s strengths are language arts requirements for early grades that define what students should master each year and how to build on those expectations. But the study notes that the standards overall “mostly lack the clarity and specificity that teachers need to help drive rigorous curriculum, daily instruction and assessments.”

    Hawaii’s students are expected to use proper grammar and punctuation. But the study notes that writing standards are “too vague and numerous to guide effective instruction and assessment.”

    What is largely missing from Hawaii’s standards is specific content such as what books students should read and what age. The study notes that, separate from the standards and in the “document library,” there are reading lists presented as suggestions that are rife with misspellings (e.g., Dickenson, Hemmingway). There are no book lists for K-8.


    Hawaii’s 3rd grade assessment requires students to solve a problem in 2 different ways, but doesn’t specify the use of addition and subtraction. And by 4th grade, students are allowed to use calculators during State performance assessment to solve problems.

    “This failure to demand fluency in using standard algorithms leaves students at a severe disadvantage as they move on to more difficult topics,” the study notes.

    Common denominators aren’t mentioned for fractions. For example, a 5th grade standard requires a student to “use a variety of strategies to multiply and divide fractions.”

    The study notes that “in high school, the geometry course mentions proof, but not axioms or postulates. The Pythagorean Theorem, and other standard theorems of Geometry, are used, but not proven. “

    The above weaknesses highlight the need for Hawaii to develop content to back up Hawaii’s standards.

    “The rigor and subject-matter content of the Common Core standards surpass most states’ standards in these subjects, though there are some intriguing exceptions,” said Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute. “As state officials decide whether to replace their present standards with the Common Core, we hope that they will consider this analysis. At the same time,” Finn added, “they need to determine whether they have the capacity and will to implement whatever standards their states embrace. Rigorous standards are important, but they’re only the beginning.”

    Half of the states, including Hawaii, have adopted the Common Core standards; this analysis reviewed the standards that were in place before such adoptions.

    Reviews of ELA standards were led by Sheila Byrd Carmichael, former deputy executive director of the California Academic Standards Commission and founding director of the American Diploma Project. Math reviews were led by W. Stephen Wilson, professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University and former Advisor for Mathematics in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

    “The most compelling argument for national standards is higher standards,” said Michael J. Petrilli, Vice President for National Programs and Policy at the Fordham Institute. “And that’s exactly what the ‘Common Core’ standards would mean for the vast majority of states and the children in their schools.”

    This analysis was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Louis Calder Foundation, The Brookhill Foundation and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

    To find out more about this study and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, please visit