Assessments. Performance evaluations. Heat. Special education. These are just a few topics that Hawaii's Department of Education (DOE) tackles on a continuing basis. However, DOE is also working on hundreds of additional complex issues to ensure that children in Hawaii receive a quality education.
Four years ago, the Board of Education and the DOE set a strategic and ambitious
plan that included systemic changes, raised academic rigor, and better preparation for students to graduate ready to succeed in college, a career and to be contributing members of our community. There have been bumps along the way in transitioning to Hawaii Common Core Standards and a new assessment; however, after much effort, we now have a new
baseline with a clear picture of how our students are doing and where we need to improve.
According to the most recent People's Pulse survey, 72 percent of Hawaii parents support the new assessment, Smarter Balanced. Test scores provide parents with important information of how their children are performing. Tests are not, however, the only measure, and this past year, we took actions to reduce testing in schools. Five tests at different grade levels are no longer mandatory for students statewide, and we have proposed to the U.S. Department of Education to make another additional test optional. (Learn more.)
Just as parents want to know how their children are doing, we want to know how schools are progressing. Our third year of Strive HI Performance System
results showed schools are maintaining recent gains across indicators. Notably,
chronic absenteeism in our elementary schools statewide dropped to 11 percent. This is huge — coming to school is a top predictor of a student's future academic success.
Of all the measures, what concerns us most is the performance of our students who have high-needs and are struggling. For some of these students, English is not their first language. Some have different learning or social and emotional needs, and some who are doing okay need help focusing on life after high school. Many are economically challenged. Some have a combination of some or all of the above. We must close the "gap" for these children — all of them — to ensure all kids have an equitable opportunity to succeed.
Let's remember what "all kids" means. There are nearly 180,000 students in our public schools. More than 50 percent of students receive free or reduced meals. Twenty-three percent of our
budget is spent on services for special needs students. More than 2,000 are homeless. School for many is much more than a place of learning. It is a safe place that allows our students to feel a sense of belonging. School provides the opportunity to change life chances.
And while it is our goal to help all students thrive, the DOE is not the "Department of Everything." We cannot be everything for everyone, and we cannot do it alone. Parent involvement and support, and partnerships with our communities, state agencies and businesses, are critical to the success of our schools and our students.
Moving ahead, you will see more tailored supports for schools based on principal and teacher feedback. We will focus on providing students with more workforce and advanced learning opportunities with partnership engagement. Our goal is to sustain momentum and positive growth.
It is up to all of us — the DOE, our schools, parents and our community — to put forth our best efforts to realize that goal, and to empower our students to reach their highest dreams.