Report shows mixed results for Big Island school performance

  • In this 2017 file photo, keiki learn about robotics during Harry Potter fall break camp at E.B. de Silva Elementary School in Hilo. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

While some Hawaii Island schools are making strides and improving in proficiency, others continue to struggle, according to 2018-19 Strive HI Performance System results released last week by the state Department of Education.

Strive HI was launched in the 2012-13 school year as the state’s locally designed performance system that was a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. It includes multiple measures of school performance including proficiency in science, math and language arts/literacy; achievement gaps, chronic absenteeism; school climate; and graduation rates.


E.B. de Silva Elementary School in Hilo has far outpaced state proficiency rates in math, language arts and science, continuing an upward trajectory it has experienced in recent years, according to data provided by the DOE.

The state average proficiency rate is 54% in language arts, 43% in math and 44% in science — which have remained fairly stagnant compared to the prior two years — while proficiency rates at the school, however, are 80%, 74% and 85%, in those areas respectively.

Principal Dennis O’Brien said the Strive HI results are encouraging and “we feel good about it,” but test scores are only one part of students measurements for success.

“We know we’re not all about our scores,” O’Brien said. “We’re a school that looks strongly at the well-being of the whole child.”

O’Brien said the elementary school has had a “strong teacher core” for many years with little turnover and has an “incredibly supportive PTA.”

E.B. de Silva also opens its doors to other schools in the area to share best practices and so other teachers can “maybe pick up successful strategies,” he said.

However, the school, which was designed for about 385 students and currently has 485, is in dire need of additional space.

“Build it and they shall come, and that’s basically what’s happened here at our school,” said O’Brien.

However, he’s “afraid if enrollment continues to increase, we’ll hit a breaking point.”

According to O’Brien, the school has been working with local legislators to seeking funding for additional classrooms.

Some Big Island schools, though, continue to struggle and have seen declines or modest increases in already low proficiency rates.

Math proficiency is at 8% in at Ka‘u High School and Pahala Elementary, down from 10% the prior year, while language arts proficiency is 21%, down from 23%.

The number of students proficient in science, however, increased from 11% in 2017-18 to 18%.

Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Chad Keone Farias said Friday such scores aren’t good, but “don’t tell the entire story.”

Ka‘u High School and Pahala Elementary, for example, serves kindergarten through 12th-grade students, which means there’s a large age gap with diverse learning goals, he said.

Geographic isolation and chronic absenteeism are issues, too — some students have to travel 50 miles to school — and a high percentage of students receive free or reduced lunch.

Farias said children in poverty are much more likely to not have preschool experience and often lack language acquisition between birth and age of 3, which is important in development.

State assessments are one measure of one point in time, he said, but the complex area uses multiple metrics over the course of a year to gauge the growth of a child.

However, Farias said, there is “a lot of work we need to do. These scores are not acceptable scores in any way.”

Farias also said he was “a bit surprised” by the chronic absenteeism in the complex area.

While some schools saw modest gains in that area — Keonepoko Elementary’s chronic absenteeism, for example dropped to 16%, compared to 18% the year before — Farias said efforts to improve chronic absenteeism at other schools saw little results.

At Ka‘u High and Pahala Elementary, 39% of students were considered chronically absent — missing more than 15 days of school for any reason — compared to 40% in 2017-18.

That is the highest percentage of chronic absenteeism on the Big Island, although a number of other schools saw rates of more than 30%.

Elsewhere in the complex area, math and language art proficiency rates held fairly steady at Keaau Elementary, but the number of students proficient in science dropped 30% between the two school years — from 53% to 23%.

Naalehu Elementary, however, saw double-digit improvements in proficiency.

Language arts proficiency increased to 30% in 2018-19, compared to 17% the prior year, science proficiency increased to 33% compared to 22% the year before and math proficiency increased to 29%, compared to 12%. But 37% of students at the school were chronically absent.

According to the DOE, Kohala High School had the highest graduation rate increase among all public schools, not including charter schools, increasing by 14%, rising from 75% in 2017-18 to 89% in the 2018-19 school year over.

Janette Snelling, deputy complex area superintendent for the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area previously served as Kohala High principal.

“I think the staff at Kohala High School have really been focused on a standards-based grading effort over the last four years,” she said Thursday.

An integral part of that is making a connection between learning and meaning for students.

There’s a balance in “what we want students to know and do and what students find relevant in that work … and I really feel that the hard work dedicated to this effort is demonstrated in that rise in graduation rates.”

Snelling said, too, that the Kohala complex is a small community with just one feeder school and there’s a commitment within the complex “to work as partners” throughout grade levels.

“I think schools in the complex are keenly aware that a successful graduate represents the culmination of learning experiences from kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said.

Kohala High also had the second highest increase of 12th-graders who completed a Career and Technical Education program of study — 60% compared to 34% in 2017-18.

The challenge of a small school is being able to offer a broad range of career pathways for students, said Snelling.

Kohala High focuses on five career pathways and has built partnerships in the community to add quality and authenticity to the program, she said.

Statewide, Strive HI results show “promising gains in college and career readiness among public school students,” the DOE said in a news release.

The number of students who have completed Career and Technical Education paths are up 8%, and more than 500 students graduated from high school on time, compared with the 2017-18 school year, the DOE said.

Meanwhile, Strive HI results on statewide assessments remained constant over the prior year, with a slight decrease in language arts and science score.


For more information about the Strive HI results, visit

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