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Board of Education raises concerns over dramatic drop in student test scores

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 9:31 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 22, 2021 at 7:39 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Education’s latest data on student performance is raising concerns among members of the Board of Education.

Members especially wanted to know why there were sharp drops in students’ math and science proficiency rates.

The DOE said the “Strive HI” performance numbers reflect the downward trend in academic performance nationally due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers were presented to the board during its Thursday general meeting. Board members were particularly troubled by the steep decline in the scores.

“To be very blunt, why are the math and science numbers so bad?” asked board member Bruce Voss.

Fellow board member Kili Namauu said, “Maybe we need to define what exactly these particular students need in terms of math. What is the exact thing that’s wrong that they’re not learning?”

The tests were conducted during the 2020-2021 academic year and were compared with the 2018-2019 school year — skipping the academic year when classes were suddenly halted due to the pandemic.

English language arts proficiency showed a 4 percentage point drop, to 50% in 2021 from 54% in 2019.

Meanwhile, just 32% of students showed proficiency in math — down from 43% in 2019, and science proficiency fell 9 percentage points to 35%.

“Somewhat surprisingly, those drops were pretty consistent across all demographics, ethnic groups, high income, low income, etc.,” said Voss. “And to me, that indicates potentially some underlying problems with the instruction methods.”

There was also an increase in chronic absenteeism during the last school year, when 88% of students were either in virtual or so-called “blended” learning — partially in class, partially online.

“During the pandemic, we did struggle with reaching all of our students,” said Assistant Superintendent Heidi Armstrong.

The data did show small improvements in literacy levels for third and eighth graders.

Education advocates said the overall drop in test scores and the rising absentee rates also are exposing more underlying issues.

“It’s also this idea of having basic needs and social, emotional stability. And we think the pandemic really affected students, children, teachers,” said Cheri Nakamura, director of the Hui for Excellence in Education Coalition.

Interim School Superintendent Keith Hayashi believes things will improve with kids physically back in the classroom.

“While there are some bright spots, the overall results emphasize the importance of having students back in the classroom for in-person learning,” said Hayashi.

Longer-term improvements may not come until after a permanent school superintendent is appointed. The board is still in the early stages of the selection process.

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