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Data shows some Hawaii public school students struggling amid coronavirus

Elementary school students are having trouble keeping up with coursework during the pandemic, with 21% “well below” proficiency in English and 15% falling short in math in the first semester, new public school data shows.

At the high school level, 12% of students got failing grades in either English or math, along with 10% in science or social studies. Among middle schoolers, 8% failed English, math, science or social studies.

To gauge how students and schools are faring in the pandemic, the Board of Education asked the Department of Education to collect data on 20 different metrics. The information, posted online in an interactive dashboard, ranges from grades to adequacy of tech devices to classroom ventilation.

Comparative data for student grades from the 2019-20 school year was not available last week, but clearly some students are falling short academically.

“It’s important to really drill into this question of learning loss,” said Alex Harris, vice president of programs for the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. “The data confirm what we know, which is that distance learning is not working for a significant portion of the population.”

“We need to identify those students and get them back on track,” he added. “And the longer we wait, the worse it’s going to be. There’s clear evidence about actions we can take, from tutoring to extended learning time, especially in the summer, to coaching that emphasizes social-emotional supports.”

While most of the metrics in the dashboard are straightforward, one regarding graduation prospects for the Class of 2021 appears problematic. It estimates that a whopping 38% of seniors — and 18% of all high school students — are “off track” for graduating on time. But the measure misses variations in course scheduling at the school level and other factors such as delayed data.

“This metric is a little unforgiving,” said Nanea Kalani, communications director for the Department of Education. “If anything is off, it could appear the student is not going to graduate. It might be due to data entry or timing issues. There certainly are students who are off track to graduate, but there are technicalities in how the data is entered.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser examined the school-level data that makes up that “off-track” average and found an astonishing 96% to 99% of seniors were listed as “off track” for graduation at five neighbor island high schools: Kapaa, Waimea, Lahainaluna, Maui and Honokaa. The figures appear wrong, however, and conflict with other academic metrics such as grades at those schools.

“There are data discrepancies that they’re looking into (at the state level),” said Kapaa Principal Tommy Cox. “Our graduation rate is very high … . As far as failure rates, we are extremely low. We run at about a 2%.”

Kapaa High School’s 2019-20 Strive HI School Performance Review, for example, shows that 98% of ninth graders were promoted to 10th grade and that 96% of all students graduated on time, as tracked from their freshman year.

Unlike that vetted system of assessing performance, the new “off track” metric looked at earned and pending credits midway through the school year. If any item needed for graduation was missing when the state pulled the data from its system, the student was listed as off track.

One major glitch is that some schools such as Kapaa are on a block schedule. That means students take four concentrated classes in each semester that are equivalent to yearlong courses, rather than six or seven courses that run for the entire academic year. Data collected at semester’s end may show seniors did not take a required core subject in the fall but not reflect the fact they will take it in the spring and graduate on time.

Similarly, a half-credit “personal transition plan” is required for all Hawaii seniors to graduate, but some aren’t scheduled until later in the school year. Even courses taken during the summer and classes that were waived may not show up in the data snapshot. And schools with large military populations can have skewed figures because of frequent transfers and the time it takes to verify academic credits.

Other metrics in the dashboard are clearer. The data shows that very few students statewide were back in school full time by the end of the second quarter. About 12% of elementary students were attending school on campus full time, along with 5% of middle schoolers and only 2% of high school students.

The bulk of students were in blended learning, which offers some time on campus and the remainder at home. Overall, 26% of public school students have opted for full distance learning from home.

Statewide, 18% of students were at risk of chronic absenteeism compared to 15% for the whole 2019 school year. (Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 8% of school days.) Absenteeism was highest in rural Kau-Keaau-Pahoa on Hawaii island and on the Waianae Coast, where more than 40% of students fell into that category.

The dashboard also included reports on devices and connectivity. By the end of December, only 2% of public school students statewide did not have a device that could be used to effectively engage in distance learning, while 2.6% did not have sufficient internet connectivity.

As more students return to school, parents have asked about classroom ventilation, and some schools are setting up outdoor spaces for learning. The metrics showed that out of 12,338 classrooms statewide, 1,320 are not properly ventilated. Proper air flow includes natural ventilation, upward flowing fans and appropriate use and care of air-conditioning and ventilation units, according to the dashboard.

The Campbell-Kapolei complex area had the most classrooms with inadequate ventilation, a total of 514. In recent years there has been a concerted push to provide air conditioning for classrooms, particularly in hot areas such as the Ewa Plain. But due to the coronavirus, open-air ventilation is now prized.

The dashboard also measured campus supplies of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, face shields and sanitizing supplies.

As of Dec. 31, 93 schools had a 60-day supply in all categories, while 164 schools had less than that in one or more categories. Nitrile gloves, for example, have been lagging as they are in short supply nationally and demand is growing with the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

The full Board of Education metrics can be found online at or via Clicking on a metric allows a viewer to see data by complex area or group of schools. Clicking on a complex reveals the school level information. Question marks lead to definitions of the metrics and helpful notes.

By the numbers

An online dashboard assessed public schools at the end of the second quarter in December.

Student grades


>> 21% “well below” proficiency in English

>> 15% “well below” proficiency in math

Middle school

>> 8% failed English, math, science or social studies

High school

>> 12% failed English or math

>> 10% failed science or social studies

Mode of instruction

>> 26% of students chose full distance learning

>> 12% of elementary students on campus full time

>> 5% of middle school students on campus full time

>> 2% of high school students on campus full time

(The remainder are in blended learning.)


>> 2% of students lack access to a tech device for distance learning

>> 2.6% of students lack adequate internet connectivity


>> 18% of students are at risk of chronic absenteeism (missed 8%+ days)

Personal protective equipment

>> 36% of schools have a 60-day supply of PPE in all categories

>> 64% have less than a 60-day supply in one or more categories

Classroom ventilation

>> 1,320 out of 12,338 classrooms are not properly ventilated

>> The full dashboard is online at or via

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