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Diplomas might get harder to earn

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Public school students would have to fulfill tougher requirements to earn diplomas, including taking algebra 2 or an equivalent math course and completing a senior project, under changes advanced yesterday by a Board of Education committee.

If approved by the full board this fall, the stiffer requirements would take effect beginning with students graduating in 2018.

The BOE’s Committee on Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support voted 4-3 yesterday to advance the proposal, with several members expressing concerns about how the Department of Education would fund the facilities upgrades, personnel and professional development needed to implement the new requirements.

The proposed "college and career ready" diploma was designed with advice from Hawaii employers and colleges, and is part of a nationwide initiative to make sure public school students remain competitive and are more prepared for the work force or higher education after graduation day.

If the BOE approves the new requirements, Hawaii would join 22 other states in adopting common, rigorous standards for high school diplomas.

Yesterday, BOE Chairman Garrett Toguchi voted against the new requirements, along with members Lei Ahu Isa and Kim Coco Iwamoto.

Toguchi said he did not support the changes because the DOE has not provided enough information about how they will be implemented.

"We don’t know what the cost is," he said.

Ahu Isa said she is worried about whether there will be enough qualified teachers to make the graduation requirements work.

"In a perfect world this would be great," she said.

She added during the meeting that she believes the policy needs strong support from the Legislature and the governor so that they can provide more funding to make it happen.

"We’re going to expect algebra 1 and 2, and yet we’re lacking good math teachers," she said. "This is very lofty."

BOE member Maggie Cox, who voted for the new diploma, said the department has its work cut out for it.

"We can pass a policy, no problem," she said. "But push comes to shove, it’s going to take place at the schools, and schools are working hard now with less resources."

The DOE acknowledged that it would be tough to implement the requirements in time—and it will involve more funding and plenty of manpower.

"This is hard work," said Dan Hamada, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and student support, at the BOE meeting yesterday. "We have three years to make this happen. That’s why we needed to start from yesterday to go forward on this."

DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe agreed, saying that implementing the new standards will not be easy. But, he said, it is doable.

"We’re asking you today to nail us to the wall with it and hold us to it and expect us to do it," he told the board. "I am worried and afraid about our ability to implement. It’s a challenge, but I’m more afraid of us not doing it (adopting tougher standards)."

Principals, university administrators and employers have expressed support for the new standards.

Darrel Galera, principal of Moanalua High School, said a more rigorous diploma is a good idea but that getting there means "careful, thoughtful implementation," resources and a "functional system."

In addition to strengthening math requirements, the new diploma requires students to take three credits of science, including biology and one other lab course.

Expository writing or an alternate English course also will become a requirement, in addition to other language arts courses.

Students will be able to "opt out" of the tougher standards with a parent’s permission and get a diploma if they fulfill graduation requirements similar to the ones on the books now.

The tougher graduation requirements come as the Department of Education is encouraging students to voluntarily go for a more rigorous diploma track, called the BOE "Step Up" recognition diploma, that was offered for the first time to students who entered their freshman year in 2009.

As of last month more than 5,800 eighth- and ninth-graders had pledged to work toward the BOE diploma, whose requirements are almost identical to the more rigorous diploma under consideration.

Incentives for choosing to fulfill the tougher requirements of the BOE diploma include special consideration for scholarships and admission preferences to universities.

Several schools have gotten a large percentage of their class of 2013 students to go for the recognition diploma, including 85 percent at Mililani High School, 78.6 percent at Roosevelt High School and 100 percent at Ke Kula o Ehunuikaimalino, a Hawaiian immersion charter school on the Big Island.

But other schools are seeing participation in the single digits.

Tammi Chun, executive director of Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education, who has worked on the new diploma standards, said the hope is that by the time the new diploma requirements go into effect in 2014, most students will be voluntarily choosing the more rigorous BOE diploma "so that we’re not flipping a switch and going from 0 to 60."

Chun added the new diploma is about making sure students succeed, whether they choose college or go directly into the work force.

She pointed out that about half of the public high school students who graduated in 2008 and went on to community colleges required remedial courses in math and English.

About one-third of Hawaii’s public high school students attend two-year colleges after graduating from high school, while another 20 percent go to four-year colleges.


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