Corrected figures show Hawaii student suspensions at national norm, not worst in U.S.
A report that faulted Hawaii’s public schools for suspending students far longer than the rest of the country was wrong and the Aloha State is actually near the national norm, according to Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.
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A report that faulted Hawaii’s public schools for suspending students far longer than the rest of the country was wrong and the Aloha State is actually near the
national norm, according
to Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto.
The problem was that data from the 2015-16 school year was incorrectly reported by the Hawaii Department of
Education to the federal government and vastly overstated the number of school days missed due to suspensions, she said.
That erroneous data formed the basis of a widely publicized report by the American Civil Liberties Union in June claiming
that Hawaii’s suspension policies were the most punitive in the country.
The department has now rerun the numbers and is having an outside contractor verify them to correct the record. On Thursday, Kishimoto previewed the results at the Board of Education’s meeting and posted them on the public schools’ website.
“With the recalculation, Hawaii falls within the national average and is not the worst in the nation as was reported,” she said. “The good news is the data is much better than the original notice.”
The corrected report reduces the overall number of suspended days per 100 students by 41%. So rather than 41 suspended days for every 100 students statewide, as was first reported, the figure is 24 days. That falls right in line with the national average of 23 days.
The corrected data reduces the number of suspended days for students with disabilities and for
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders by similar percentages. But those groups
still show higher rates
than their peers.
Altogether, 93% of suspensions in Hawaii’s public schools were for less than 100 days, Kishimoto said. Suspensions of more than
10 days must be approved by a complex area superintendent and can be appealed.
The ACLU report took the department by surprise and prompted Kishimoto’s staff to take a closer look.
“We said, ‘This doesn’t look right,’” Kishimoto said in an interview. “This doesn’t align with our day-to-day database that we use.”
The errors cropped up when the department generated data for the U.S. Civil Rights Data Collection, she said. It was the first time the federal government had asked for the number of days suspended per 100 students.
The department mistakenly totalled suspension days for every offense, rather than by student. So a student suspended for more than one infraction at a time — such as fighting and having contraband — had his
or her suspension days counted more than once.
“The problem with the data was that it was double counting and in some cases triple counting the days when it was uploaded,” Kishimoto said.
The original, flawed data indicated that students with disabilities lost the most school time, at 95 days for every 100 students. The corrected data lowers that number by 47% to a total of
50 days. That is still above the national average of
44 days for students with disabilities.
The number of days that Pacific Islanders were suspended fell by 45% in the corrected numbers.
The U.S. Civil Rights Data Collection is conducted every two years, and the federal government is in the process of collating information from the 2017-18 school year.
Kishimoto said the department expects to show substantial improvement as a result of a concerted efforts to give troubled students the support and services they need. That trend is evident in its internal database, known as the Longitudinal Data System, she said.
Complex Area Superintendent Ann Mahi, who oversees the Nanakuli-Waianae schools, said the initial data that came out was disheartening to principals and other staff.
“The way we see the issues around discipline isn’t the end piece of suspending children but how we build a support system of resources and services that prevent our children from getting into situations where they make choices where they may be suspended,” Mahi said.
“Since 2015, we’ve really worked very hard because we knew what our data showed,” she said. “We are addressing the needs of children who are coming to school with hurt and pain and inflicting that on others.”
Another disciplinary measure collected for years by the federal government is the percentage of students suspended each year. According to the 2017 Digest of Education Statistics, Hawaii suspended 3.5% of students annually, well below the national average of 5.3%.
“Our overarching goal is to maintain a safe and harmonious environment,” said Heidi Armstrong, assistant superintendent for student support services. “We know that suspensions alone don’t change behavior. It is the counseling and interventions …
is necessary, and the administration has to make the call on what is the best thing to do to keep my campus safe,” she said.