A month after the elected Board of Education approved new graduation requirements creating two diploma tracks for students starting with the class of 2018, the appointed board is taking up the issue again.
The new board says it wants one diploma — not separate tracks — and agrees with the Department of Education that the new requirements should be more rigorous than existing ones.
But the appointed board also had a host of questions yesterday for the DOE at a Student Achievement Committee meeting, including how schools would make sure dropout rates don’t increase, what students who don’t want to take algebra 2 can use as an alternative, and why the department is seeking to make a senior project mandatory.
The DOE was instructed to return to the committee by next month with answers so the full board can take up the matter by August — in time for the start of the new school year. The new requirements would apply to students now in fifth grade.
The issue of what classes students should have to take to graduate has been a contentious one, with critics of the department’s tougher requirements saying the "college and career ready diploma" will hurt struggling students.
Last month the elected BOE didn’t agree with the department’s recommendation to make the tougher diploma the default, which students could opt out of only with parental permission.
Instead, in its final meeting as a board April 7 — and after hours of discussion — members narrowly approved a two-track diploma system, which allows students to choose the tougher "college and career ready" track or one designed for students who might not be interested in higher-level math or lab science.
The "college and career ready" diploma requires students to complete two lab sciences, algebra 2 or an equivalent math course, and a senior project.
The second track requires fewer math courses but still mandates that students take algebra 1 and biology to graduate.
Talk of tougher graduation requirements comes as a host of other states are also looking to make it harder to earn a high school diploma.
Tammi Chun, the governor’s education adviser, told the BOE committee yesterday that higher graduation standards are needed to make sure Hawaii students are ready for college and competitive careers.
She pointed to a number of studies that raise questions about the amount of preparation Hawaii high-schoolers are getting: About one-third of Hawaii public school students who go to University of Hawaii community colleges needed remedial instruction in math and English in 2009; and 38 percent of Hawaii students fail the U.S. Army’s aptitude test, which is required for enlistment. That’s the highest failure rate in the nation.
Don Horner, BOE chairman, said he’s "not quarreling" with the department’s push to "use rigor as a default."
But he did have questions, including what alternatives the department would offer for algebra 2.
BOE member Nancy Budd said she was wary of the potential "unintended consequences" of the tougher diploma.