Everyone agrees that after distance learning for more than a full school year, the consequences likely would be dire. That does not diminish the academically desperate straits in which public schools now find themselves, based on a steep decline in some key proficiencies that could cripple achievement in the future.
The urgency to address these deficits is intense. State educational officials affirm that they have a mitigation plan in place, but its implementation must be accelerated so that kids don’t lose their footing in the learning process altogether.
The impetus came from a report from Strive HI, the state Department of Education’s school accountability system, presented on Thursday to the state Board of Education (BOE).
The drop was revealed in test scores in the core subjects: language arts, math and science. This was the plain result of school closures and the reliance on remote learning among all schools during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, encompassing the 2020-21 school year.
Not surprisingly, math proficiency suffered the most, falling from 43% in 2019 to 32% in 2021. Assistant Superintendent Teri Ushijima told the school board that mastering math builds on “foundational skills,” indisputably true. The opportunity to gain those skills was lost to many students, some of whom did not check in routinely or keep up with assigned work.
The slide was a bit less precipitous in science (down 9%) and language arts proficiency (down 4%), but the ground to be made up there is still concerning.
In testimony before the board on Thursday, David Miyashiro, executive director of the education nonprofit HawaiiKidsCAN, rightly said the Strive HI data should set off “alarm bells.”
“If not addressed successfully and swiftly, students will very likely be negatively impacted throughout the rest of their K-12 journeys,” he said.
Miyashiro said in a later interview that even pre-pandemic, the proficiency gains already had leveled off, signaling the call for an approach that’s more coordinated and less directed school by school.