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Suspension data overstated for Hawaii public school students, superintendent says

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  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2018

    Superintendent of Education Christina Kishimoto at a board meeting.

Data showing Hawaii public school students were suspended far longer than the national average was based on incorrect reporting by the state that inflated the numbers, the superintendent said Thursday.

“It has come to my attention that erroneous data was submitted for the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection, which has led to misinformation being shared publicly,” schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a written statement.

“The inconsistencies in student discipline data resulted in the doubling or tripling of data counts of suspended days,” she wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, asking to amend the records.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the Hawaii Disability Rights Center had raised alarm bells about the amount of time students, particularly Native Hawaiians and students with disabilities, were being put out of school on suspension.

The Civil Rights Data Collection from the 2015-16 school year was the first time the federal government required public schools to track and report the number of “school days missed” due to out-of-school suspensions. It is the most recent data available nationally.

In her letter, Kishimoto said the department mistakenly tallied “lost school days” multiple times when a student was suspended for more than one infraction at a time.

“The discrepancy occurred with the data extracted for reporting, which resulted in totalling the number of suspended days for each school by offense, rather than by incidents,” she wrote. “As an example, a student suspended for a single incident involving fighting and having contraband might have had his or her suspension days counted twice, once for fighting and then a second time for contraband.”

She added that the department’s “business rules of reporting also lead to inflated counts in race designations, e.g., the Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander subgroup.”

Kishimoto, who became superintendent in August 2017, asked the federal government to allow the state to amend the data and said the department has hired a third-party vendor to verify the revisions. The civil rights data is collected every two years, and “inconsistencies” cropped up when data from 2017-18 was being collected, she said.

The ACLU of Hawaii had analyzed the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection and unveiled the results at a forum in June. They showed that Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders and students with disabilities lost more than twice as many school days here as nationally. The data also showed major disparities among student subgroups and schools within Hawaii.

In reporting on that forum, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted that other federal statistics showed Hawaii suspends far fewer students overall than the national average. The suspension rate here was 3.5% of students per year versus the national rate of 5.3%, according to the 2017 Digest of Education Statistics. That figure focuses on how many students are suspended rather than instructional days lost.

On Monday the Hawaii Disability Rights Center announced that it had asked the federal government to look into possible discrimination against students with disabilities, based on the lengthy suspensions evident in the Civil Rights Data Collection.

The ACLU also sent letters this week to high school principals asking them to curb unnecessary suspensions, saying Hawaii has the nation’s highest number of student days lost per capita due to suspensions. It highlighted disparities in suspension days for various ethnic groups and students with disabilities at different campuses across the state.

The statewide data, which the department now says is flawed, indicated that for every 100 students in a Hawaii public school, there were 41 days of suspension, compared with the national average of 23 days. Students with disabilities lost the most school time, 95 days for every 100 students, compared with 44 days nationally. Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders lost 75 days, compared with 30 days nationwide.

“We own this data, and we are taking swift action to address this situation and adjust our procedures to prevent this from happening again,” Kishimoto said. “The revised data set will be released pending guidance from the federal level as well as verification from our third-party vendor that it has been corrected.”

HIDOE Letter to the ED by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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