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Hawaii gets approval for education law waiver

The Obama administration approved Hawaii’s request for a waiver from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

In 2011, the administration announced it would let states avoid certain requirements, like students showing they’re proficient in reading and math by 2014, if other conditions were met. Those conditions included states imposing their own standards to prepare students for college and careers and setting evaluation standards for teachers and principals.

Critics of No Child Left Behind call it a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to education.

Hawaii is calling their redesigned plan, Strive HI Performance System. Now that the school year is coming to an end, the district will work with complex area superintendents and principals over the summer to implement the system in the fall.

Hawaii Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said today’s approval will help focus on college and career readiness, rewarding high-performing schools and customizing student support.

Hawaii created zones in remote, hard-to-staff, low-performing schools that serve the largest population of Native Hawaiian and poor students. The zones in Waianae in Oahu and in the Kau, Keaau and Pahoa areas of the Big Island are targeted for reforms under Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant.

The U.S. Department of Education says it has approved waiver requests from 37 states and the District of Columbia so far.

Hawaii education officials said they will use multiple methods to measure school performance, instead of relying on the No Child Left Behind’s “Adequate Yearly Progress,” which is based mostly on reading and math test scores. Hawaii will measure success with data, including state reading and math scores, science assessments, chronic absenteeism and college enrollment.

Under Hawaii’s newly approved system, each school is accountable for meeting customized goals.

An element of the waiver includes implementing teacher evaluations and the Hawaii State Teachers Association will be paying close attention to how that happens, said Al Nagasako, the union’s executive director. “We want to make sure teachers are involved every step of the way as they develop guidelines for that,” he said.

The state Department of Education said No Child Left Behind forced schools to include accountability of student subgroups that don’t fully reflect Hawaii’s student population.

“We are proud of the work happening at every level of Hawaii’s public education system to prepare students for real-world demands and provide better data, tools and support to students, educators and schools,” Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said. “Now, with approval of the Strive HI Performance System, we’ve unlocked the potential of all these efforts to work together in a coherent way to support success.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard recently visited some of the zone schools to see the progress being made. “For six years, national education reform has been in a holding pattern,” she said Monday. “Our students, teachers and administrators have waited for too long and deserve to have the flexibility to pursue Hawaii-developed reforms now.”

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