Want better schools? Better standards are the first step.


This piece about new standards and assessments in Hawaii's public schools was written by teachers Yuuko Arikawa (Hawaii’s 2010 Milken Award Winner), Mary Carlson (Kapaa High School) and Gwen Lee (Niu Valley Middle School). A new assessment, aligned with Hawaii Common Core, is rolling out this spring.

​Families are the key in student readiness

Connect with resources to help your child be ready for new standards and assessments — take practice tests with your child, view videos explaining the instructional shifts, download helpful factsheets and more.

Yuuko Arikawa, Mary Carlson and Gwen LeePictured, clockwise from top left:
Yuuko Arikawa, Mary Carlson and Gwen Lee.​

As educators in Hawaii’s public schools, we welcome recent discussions about ways to improve the state’s education system. However, we feel compelled to correct several misstatements published recently regarding Hawaii’s education goals and adoption of new standards, all of which present a sense of urgency to us.

The Hawaii State Department of Education has implemented the Hawaii Common Core standards – a set of clear and consistent learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade to graduate prepared for colleges and careers.

Why did we raise the standards for our teachers and students? Simply put, existing standards – in Hawaii and across the U.S. – were no longer preparing students for the requirements of college or the workforce. For example, more than one-third of our public school graduates enroll in remedial college math or English at the University of Hawaii. Nationally, the picture is not any better: more than half of graduates entering two-year colleges face remediation, according to data from 33 states analyzed by a 2012 Complete College America report.

In addition, students have not had enough technology courses or hands-on instruction in careers that will allow them to begin work upon graduation. The new Hawaii Common Core helps teachers shift their focus within the classroom to better prepare our students. Educators recognize that because our nation’s high school graduates are not well prepared, they cannot compete in a rapidly changing global economy.

Standards had to be revised on behalf of students who only have one opportunity at a quality education. In an unprecedented effort, educators nationwide — including Hawaii teachers, curriculum coordinators, department heads and even parents and students — helped provide feedback into the development of the Common Core.

These are the same Common Core State Standards embraced by more than 40 states, teacher unions, higher education representatives and business groups. The standards, which are essentially grade-by-grade guidelines to help students succeed, were drawn from top-performing countries, reflecting higher college expectations and workforce demands. The standards are not a curriculum, meaning that teachers still remain in control over lessons and strategies to help students learn.

So what makes the Hawaii Common Core better? 

  • The new standards emphasize the importance of making sure students master key skills and concepts across subject areas as they progress from kindergarten through high school. 
  • They promote creative and critical thinking, challenging students to collaborate and sharpen communication skills that are essential to employers. For example, the math standards focus on students’ ability to reason and think outside the box to solve relevant, real-life problems, instead of relying on memorization to find answers to exercises. 
  • Additionally, the Hawaii Common Core’s attention to nonfiction text introduces students to more diverse materials such as biographies, essays and speeches. For instance, students can read former Gov. George Ariyoshi’s book, “Hawaii: The Past Fifty Years, The Next Fifty Years,” and submit essays, videos, or visual arts entries about their vision for the state. This particular lesson also allows our fellow teachers from different subjects such as history and art to collaborate — yet another focus of the Common Core.

Hawaii also was among the more than 20 states that led a similar, collaborative effort to create new assessments​ to measure students’ understanding of the new standards. Anyone who alleges this was a “top-down” process is misinformed.

Beginning this spring, Hawaii students in grades 3-8 and 11 will take the Smarter Balanced assessments, which will replace — and not add to — the old annual statewide assessments. This is only one measure of student success, and it is delivered one time during the school year. (Take a look at Related Documents in the right-hand navigation bar, for factsheets demonstrating the instruction shifts, and what that looks like in the new test versus the old test). In the classroom, teachers use regular formative assessment to adjust and improve their instruction. 

To be clear, the Hawaii Common Core is not a panacea for success – it was never intended to be. It certainly doesn’t change the reality that, each day, we, along with our colleagues, will continue to face challenges as we help students who arrive to school with different levels of knowledge, or social and emotional needs.

But the Hawaii Common Core does set a high level of expectations for all, along with a necessary support system, which is a crucial first step. We will continue to support each other as we raise the bar for student achievement. We know that our students are up to the task.


Other teacher voices

  • ​PBS Insights: Education Reform in Hawaii — VIEW
  • Common curricular resources do not prescribe how teachers must teach — VIEW​
  • ​At Lanakila El, parents get firsthand look at new test — VIEW
  • We want students to be thinkers, rather than answer-getters — VIEW

​Lear​n mo​​re

Hawaii Common Core ​The standards are a call to take another leap forward in our efforts toward ensuring that all of our students graduate from high school college-, career- and community-ready. ​

State Assessment​​The Smarter Balanced Assessments will give parents and teachers more accurate and actionable information about what students are learning.​​

Contact Information

Communications & Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232

Email: doe_info@hawaiidoe.org


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