A new study spotlights Hawaii as one of four states where Asian-American students had notably lower achievement on state tests than their white peers, bucking a national trend.
But education officials here said the study might not tell the full story.
"When you look at Hawaii’s assessment scores, you can see we’ve shown continual improvement," said Sandy Goya, Department of Education spokeswoman. "It would be premature to draw a conclusion on this study alone."
The report, from the Center on Education Policy, showed Hawaii’s Asian-American students—a category that includes Pacific islanders—in public elementary, middle and high schools don’t perform as well as their white peers in either reading or math.
For example, 34 percent of Asian-American eighth-graders here tested as proficient in math in 2008, compared with 43 percent of white students. In reading, 66 percent of Asian-American high-schoolers tested as proficient, compared with 76 percent of whites.
The report’s authors said other states with high percentages of Asian Americans did better, including California, New York and Washington. And nationally, Asian Americans were found to perform better than any other group in all levels of math and in fourth- and eighth-grade reading.
The other states where Asian Americans lagged behind their white peers were Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The report did not study the potential reasons for the disparities in achievement between the groups in those states, but said several factors may be at play, including poverty, the state-by-state makeup of Asian-Americans and Pacific islanders, and whether students were newly arrived immigrants.
Jack Jennings, Center on Education Policy president and chief executive officer, said taking into account differences in the population of Asian Americans students by state doesn’t erase the fact that the group is lagging in Hawaii public schools.
"There’s still a serious question about why Hawaii would be the outlier," he said.
Wade Araki, principal of Benjamin Parker Elementary School in Kaneohe, where most of the students are Asian American or Pacific islanders, said he doesn’t see any difference in achievement between white and Asian-American students.
He said the study might be applicable in other states, but with Hawaii’s big population of Asian-Americans the data may be skewed.
"It really doesn’t give a true picture," he said.
About 14 percent of public school students in Hawaii are white, while 61.6 percent are Asian-American, according to the DOE.
The study also compared Asian Americans to other ethnicities, including African Americans, Latinos and American Indians, but those populations were so small in Hawaii schools that the figures weren’t included.
The Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, studies student achievement and public school performance. To see the study, go to www.cep-dc.org.