espite soaring rates of absent students, schools were able to make strides in student achievement last year according to test results from the 2021-22 school year released on Wednesday.

The state’s annual Strive HI report showed academic proficiency increased across the board from the year before, but scores stopped short of pre-pandemic numbers, a recovery that Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Tammi Oyadomari-Chun said research indicates will take three years.

In the 2021-22 school year, more than a third of Hawaii students were chronically absent from school, meaning they missed 15 or more days of class. That’s a significant jump from the year before, when only 18% of students were counted as chronically absent.

Just over half of students in Hawaii — 52% — were deemed proficient in language arts, up from 50% in 2020. The percentage of students proficient in math rose 6 percentage points to 38%.

HawaiiKidsCAN Executive Director David Sun-Miyashiro said that Hawaii’s learning gap was a stubborn issue before the pandemic and continues to be.

He emphasized the importance of ensuring targeted supports for disadvantaged students who have been increasingly left behind during the pandemic. The DOE has until 2024 to use $412 million in federal pandemic relief funding, a large part of which is specifically earmarked for helping disadvantaged students with both academic and social emotional development.

Sun-Miyashiro says that a renewed emphasis on growth, spurred by poor performance over the last two years, has taken hold in the state. This emphasis, especially for students most in need of individualized wraparound support that addresses social and emotional health, could be just what the state’s education system needed to upend years of stagnant academic performance.

“I think this mindset of acceleration and wraparound supports and addressing learning loss can actually be front and center for the department, even as we transition out of the heart of the pandemic,” he said. “I think that’ll actually put us on a really nice track to not just recover, but potentially surpass where we were before Covid hit.”

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