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Thursday, October 30, 2014         

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Isle schools get $160M grant

By Mary Vorsino

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A 31-state consortium, which includes Hawaii, has received a four-year, $160 million federal grant to develop student assessments aligned to the national common core curriculum.

The U.S. Department of Education says the grant will develop "a new generation of tests" and tools to help teachers better track what their students are -- and aren't -- learning throughout the year.

Kathryn Matayoshi, Hawaii interim schools superintendent, said the funding "will be a huge cost-saver for us."

The tests will roll out in 2014, while the common core curriculum will be put in place in Hawaii schools next year.

Matayoshi said that until the common core test is ready, the state will modify existing annual tests to gauge student achievement.

"We need for them to be teaching to the common core before we test for the common core," Matayoshi said, adding that the transition to the new curriculum and testing is something many states are struggling with.

"There are a lot of transition questions," she said.

The new common core tests will be online and use "computer adaptive technology" that will ask students questions based on their previous answers. The grant will go to developing "summative exams" (given twice a year) and "formative exams" (given to test for key learning benchmarks).

Also yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $170 million grant to a second consortium composed of 26 states. (Some states are in both groups; Hawaii is not.)

The second consortium, which wants to develop a series of tests to give students throughout the school year, is looking to test a student's ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media.

"As I travel around the country the No. 1 complaint I hear from teachers is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn't measure what really matters," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said yesterday in a news release. "Both of these winning applicants are planning to develop assessments that will move us far beyond this and measure real student knowledge and skills."

The common core curriculum is designed to standardize what students across the country learn and better prepare America's high school graduates for college or careers.

It's also one of the key planks of Race to the Top, the U.S. Department of Education's grant competition for school reform.

Hawaii was awarded $75 million in Race to the Top money last month to turn around struggling schools, improve teacher effectiveness and boost student achievement.






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