Not many students participated in distance learning in the final quarter of the 2019-20 school year, according to preliminary survey results released by the Hawaii Department of Education Monday.

Just one in 10 elementary teachers surveyed said up to 100% of their students consistently participated in remote learning. Among middle and high school teachers, only 3% reported up to 100% of their students participated consistently.

Teachers also faced difficulty reaching or contacting students after schools closed.

Only half of elementary teachers surveyed said they were able to reach up to 100% of their students during school closures. But just a quarter of middle and high school teachers said they could reach all of their students, while 20% said they could reach no more than 20% of their students.

Kaneohe Elementary School summer school student raises her hand in class during COVID-19 pandemic. June 12, 2020
About 60% of teachers responded to a Department of Education survey of online remote learning and availability of technology during this period of school closures. Less than 10 percent of secondary students responded. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The results were collected through a survey conducted in the last two weeks of the 2019-20 school year. A separate survey of secondary students in grades 6-12 was also sent out. A parent survey is currently in progress and remains open through the end of June.

The surveys, administered by the outside firm Panorama Education, cover various topics such as internet and device accessibility, rate of participation in online learning, level of communication with teachers during the time of school building closures and level of confidence in teaching remotely.

The level of digital access and student engagement as a result of school closures due to the COVID-19 crisis in the last part of the 2019-20 school year have been among the main concerns in the public school community.

Public school buildings were shuttered for the state’s 179,000 students since the end of spring break in mid-March. No formal grades were issued in the fourth and final quarter and many teachers reverted to enrichment activities issued online or via paper packets for those without a device or reliable internet service.

For the teacher survey, 8,324 responded, a response rate of 60%. Among the state’s 88,901 secondary school students (grades 6 to 12), only 8,661 responded, for a 9.7% return rate.

The DOE said Monday some survey questions were still being processed and weren’t included in this preliminary report.

In a statement, School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the results will help gauge readiness levels for planning for next school year, which begins Aug. 4, and to make “permanent, innovative improvements” to the DOE’s digital learning approach.

“We must invest in equity of access now,” she said.

Teacher Survey Results

The teacher survey included other findings. Among the teachers surveyed, 40% said they were “somewhat confident” about online teaching or remote work, while a quarter of those surveyed said they were “quite confident.” Another one in five teachers surveyed said they were “slightly confident” about online teaching while just 8% said they were “not at all confident” about it.

As far as the biggest barrier to working from home, nearly one in five teachers said it was lack of a quiet workspace; 17% said it was child care; another 20% said it was “something else.” A third of those surveyed said they didn’t face any barriers.

When it comes to professional development, three-fourths of teachers surveyed said they want more knowledge on how to engage students online. Another two-thirds said addressing special needs populations, including special education, English language learners and homeless kids, was a priority. Half of respondents said addressing social, emotional and physical needs for their students was a priority.

Student Results

When it comes to students, 83% of secondary students surveyed said they had a home computer they could use for distance learning, while 71% said there were sufficient devices in their household per family member to use.

Half the students surveyed said they had “quite reliable” internet access. About 22% of students surveyed said they participated in distance learning through paper packets, while 83% said they did so through online delivery.

In a summary of results, DOE noted that fewer Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students said there were enough tech devices in their household for each family member to use compared with the student survey results in total. A higher percentage of students from those communities said they were given a school-issued device than students overall.

Three-fourths of respondents said they’d prefer digital devices to paper packets for remote learning.

Most student respondents also said email was the most frequent form of communication with teachers, followed by a platform like Google Classroom. The majority, 66%, said participating in video conferencing was the most active way they engaged in remote instruction, followed by posting an assignment to an online forum.

When it came to social and emotional needs, most kids said they could count on an adult or other teacher from school, while one-third of respondents said teachers and counselors were “quite helpful” in supporting their needs.

The student survey consisted of 29 questions. Those who responded were 24% Asian, excluding Filipinos; 20% Filipino; 18% white; 17% Native Hawaiian; and 7% Pacific Islander.

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