LIHU‘E — Hawai‘i public school students are falling behind national standards.
Just 25.2% of students in first through eighth grades are at or above grade level in mathematics, and 33.7% of these students at or above grade level in English language Arts, according to new data from a recent screener test the state Department of Education presented to the state’s Board of Education on Thursday.
In both mathematics and English, over 30% of students are two or more grade levels behind.
This is based on a universal screener administered to about 90% of students this fall. Five schools had not completed the screeners by the date the data was released, and 13 schools were excluded by using a different screener.
The data is of significant concern to community and board members.
“The data presented today should set off major alarm bells across our education system,” Hawai‘i Kids Can Founding Executive Director David Miyashiro said in written testimony.
“Simply put, the majority of students, in the most foundational years, are not on track academically. If not addressed successfully and swiftly, students will very likely be negatively impacted throughout the rest of their K-12 journeys,” he said.
DOE Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami presented the data and introduced standard-teaching practices, including targeted-tiered instruction and professional development for teachers to meet the challenges of low student performance.
Lisa Morrison, Maui High School teacher and secretary-treasurer of the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association, said this meeting sounded all too familiar.
“I was joking when the agenda came out last week that this could have been their presentation from 2013. It just doesn’t change much,” Morrison said.
Morrison was signed up to give oral testimony at the BOE general business meeting, but was unable to get her students settled in time to present to the board. Meetings are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month, when most educators are in school teaching.
As Morrison suggested, low student performance is not just a pandemic problem. While the 2021 data was worse than previous years, however, prior to the pandemic in 2019, some 46% of students still performed below grade-level expectations in English, with 57% of students unable to reach grade-level proficiency in math.
Morrison was frustrated but not surprised that Unebasami did not provide a more detailed plan of how to get kids up to grade level, suggesting more resources are needed for teachers to meet student needs.
“What is the expectation if we’re not going to fund what’s needed?” Morrison asked.
Board members pressed the DOE for action.
“I mean, my goodness, you look at these numbers — 32% proficiency across the board and math on the (Strive Balanced Assessment), and universal screener was even worse,” board member Bruce Voss said. “Those are very sobering, difficult, steep-hill-to-climb numbers. What lessons, if any, has the department learned from this?” he asked
DOE Interim Assistant Superintendent Teri Ushijima reiterated that the department isn’t taking this issue lightly, and plans to invest in different coaching models.
“We are also very concerned, and we have been very concerned about the progress in math,” Ushijima said. “And one of the areas that we are looking at working with the complex areas in schools is, is possibly a whole-school-agreement approach.”
More analysis of this year’s fall data will be available at next month’s school board meeting, which will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18.
For Morrison, that is not soon enough.
“What’s hard about that, is by the time that the Board of Education is being given a report on where kids are at the beginning of the school year, the year is half over,” she said. “If we sit and we look, I bet we’re going to get a very similar presentation next year.”
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.