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Hawaiʻi Department of Education highlights Molokaʻi’s Kaunakakai Elementary for double-digit improvement

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Kaunakakai Elementary on Molokaʻi showed double-digit growth in student academic proficiencies across all subjects. Photo credit: Hawaiʻi State Department of Education.

The Hawaii State Department of Educationʻs annual Strive HI Performance System results from the 2021-22 school year show gains in academic performance across core subject areas and improvements in student success indicators, according to a press release from the department.

The data reflects the first full school year of in-person learning following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Education highlighted two schools that showed great improvement. One of them was Kaunakakai Elementary on Molokaʻi, which showed double-digit growth in student academic proficiencies across all subjects.

From school year 2020-21 to 2021-22, scores for English language arts increased by 12 percentage points to 43%, math increased by 22 points to 40% and science increased by 33 points to 45%. These scores put the school over complex area averages and nearly on par with statewide averages. The school’s third-grade literacy levels also surpassed statewide averages this year by four percentage points at 84%. 


The gains were established even through high rates of student absenteeism. Kaunakakai’s chronic absenteeism rates increased two-fold as a result of the pandemic, yet the dedication and commitment of the school’s teachers and staff in supporting student learning no matter where the students physically were, was critical to the academic success reflected in their results, according to Principal Daniel Espaniola.

“Our teachers really went above and beyond to help students and their families during this difficult time,” Espaniola said. “They voluntarily recorded lessons and posted them online, established strong platforms and open lines of communication with families, and offered additional support opportunities like after-school tutoring for those in need.”

Access to technology also was prioritized during this time to ensure that technology and connectivity were not barriers to student learning. To achieve this, the school implemented a 2:1 electronic device to student ratio — one device for home and one for school use — and also distributed wireless hotspots to families without internet connectivity at home through the use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal funds from the American Rescue Act.

“By prioritizing a return to in-person learning last school year, schools were able to implement data-driven strategies to support and accelerate student learning,” Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. “These include small-group instruction, intervention blocks, tutoring, out-of-school-time programs, academic coaching, personalized activities, and behavioral and social-emotional assessments.


“Still, last school year was far from a normal year. The encouraging growth we are seeing is a testament to our educators who are counteracting the effects of the pandemic.”

The federal ESSER funds were provided to the Department in 2021 to support the safe reopening of schools and to mitigate student learning loss. The funds have been used to develop and implement specific programs and interventions to support the specific needs of their students who were impacted by the pandemic, according to the press release.

Key year-over-year 2021-22 Strive HI results:

  • Statewide academic proficiency in English language arts, math and science increased.
    • Language arts proficiency increased by 2 percentage points to 52% in 2022.
    • Math proficiency increased by 6 points to 38%.
    • Science proficiency increased by 5 points to 40%.
    • For statewide English language arts and math proficiency results by grade level, click here.
  • Third-grade literacy (reading near/at or above grade level), which has been steadily increasing since 2015, saw an increase of 4 points to 80%.
  • Ninth-grade on-time promotions to 10th grade increased by four points to 89%.
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) program completion increased by three points to 64%.
  • On-time graduation rate was maintained at 86%.
  • College-going rate continued to be impacted by the pandemic at 50%.

“The Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are used to assess student academic proficiency, are a common indicator of college and career readiness, so these gains are significant because these assessments reflect very high standards.


Nationally, Hawaiʻi exceeded, matched or is within two points of other states that have reported Smarter Balance Assessments results for English language arts and math,” Deputy Superintendent Tammi Oyadomari-Chun said. “This assessment is one of many tools that schools use to track and measure academic progress and growth, including universal screeners, formative assessments and regular check-ins to plan and inform academic approaches.”

In line with national trends, chronic absenteeism rates — especially in elementary school students — saw a substantial increase to 37% from 18% the year prior, mainly as a result of COVID-19 quarantine and isolation requirements for students. Statewide bus driver shortages and the US Navy emergency fuel storage leak situations were also contributing factors to the increase in absenteeism. 

Despite the student absenteeism rate, the Department of Education saw academic proficiency gains across all student subgroups, including but not limited to, English learners, students receiving special education services, and economically disadvantaged students.

The other school highlighted by the Department of Education is Wheeler Middle School on Oʻahu, which saw scores for English language arts increased by 11 points to 77%, math increased by 18 points to 57%, and science increased by 6 points to 67%.

“While we are extremely proud of the improvements made over the last year, national research tells us that full student academic recovery can take up to three years or longer,” Superintendent Hayashi added. “Our overarching goal is to have continuous academic gains among all student subgroups beyond just the pandemic learning gaps. It’s very promising to see how the federal funds have supported our schools in getting to this point and we will work hard to secure the financial support to continue to invest in and accelerate the strategies that are making a difference for our students.” 

Strive HI was launched in the 2012-13 school year as the state’s locally designed school improvement and accountability system that offered flexibility from the former 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; academic growth; and graduation rates. The system was modified in 2017 to align with the revised HIDOE/BOE Strategic Plan and reauthorization of federal education law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Click here to view the 2021-22 State Snapshot of Strive HI indicators. For more information about the Strive HI performance system, click here.


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