Tests show Hawai‘i pupils lagging in math, English

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 lsmith@thegardenisland.com.

  1. jake October 22, 2021 6:39 am Reply

    1. Start paying your teachers real wages, Hawaii. How are you going to attract quality teachers to Hawaii if all you offer them is chicken feed?
    2. Sports are fine, but there is too much emphasis on them. Only .001% of these kids has what it takes to become professional athletes. The rest are just entertaining their parents on weekends.
    3. Parent’s, stop doing your kids homework for them to “keep up appearances” that you have a smart kid. You either gave birth to a dummy or a genius, and you can’t fix stupid. Stupid is forever.

  2. Sam G October 22, 2021 7:36 am Reply

    I blame the parents.

  3. Makani B. Howard October 22, 2021 9:43 am Reply

    We wonder why we have so many homeless people on our island? Here is one big reason! Our children graduate from high school and can’t even do math! The schools continue to push them through the grades even though they can’t pass. Shame on our school system!

  4. COACH4 October 22, 2021 11:11 am Reply

    Has anyone really looked deeper into the reasons… here’s a few questions I have:
    1) what’s are the ages of the students in each grade? I was told by mainland coaches the mainland education system holds back all boys that are late born (June) for multiple reasons as couple are academically and maturity. Ever wonder why mainland football team seniors look like men… well some of them are already 18 or gonna be soon.
    2) in Hawaii we like to push up our kids a age, make them graduate quicker, get out da house sooner…
    Unknowingly we create to levels of unevenness ACADEMICALLY and ATHLETICALLLY.

  5. mina October 22, 2021 1:58 pm Reply

    Too much emphasis on sports, and it’s the parents’ fault. Sports are more fun. Sports are easier, and most local parents were academically unmotivated jocks when they were in school, so why not inflict the same future on their kids. Take a hard look at your little Alika or Mahea running around on the athletic field. In stead of his or her name printed on her uniform, picture the words, “hotel maid, trash collector, janitor, waiter, or meth dealer” printed there instead. That’s basically what you’re setting them up for with all of this almighty sports obsession.

  6. KauaiFarmMan October 22, 2021 7:14 pm Reply

    The article before this starts with “ Chef said he dunno how to make pie”. Our local newspaper editor clearly doesn’t know proper grammar or spelling. Improper English is glorified here on Kauai. Ask any local teacher they push kids through that can’t even read. We have a broken system or one that’s working exactly as planned, keep an uneducated population to continue oppression. Classic Democrat welfare politics.

  7. Eku October 23, 2021 1:19 am Reply

    I had success when I pulled my kids from local schools and educated them on the mainland. It is not higher salaries that solve the problem. Try playing less, focusing on education at home, less emphasis on sports and more focus on the core curriculum with competent teachers.

    Not everyone can become a highly paid sports figure, but anyone who applies themselves to receiving a good education in a viable career field can succeed. Surfing is fun, education is commitment and hard work.

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