Nearly 18% of Hawaii’s high schoolers — and 38% of high school seniors alone — are not on track to graduate based on credits earned or needed in their stage of schooling, according to new official data, a troubling sign many students have fallen behind during the pandemic.

Certain districts in Hawaii are seeing a precipitously high percent of high school seniors not on track to graduate, based on data captured through the end of the second quarter ending Dec. 18 by the Hawaii Department of Education that was released just a few days ago.

For instance, in the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui district, 66% of high school seniors, or 598 students, have not accrued the necessary credits to graduate, while in Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai, 68% of seniors, or 237 students, are falling short of credits.

Waianae High School No Airhorns at Graduation.
Hawaii’s DOE saw an 85% high school graduation rate in 2019, the last full school year before the pandemic began. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The high school graduation metric, based on data collected by the DOE’s Office of Strategy, Innovation and Performance, is part of a broader data dashboard created by DOE this year to monitor things like grades, attendance, device connectivity and the supply of protective gear in schools during the pandemic.

The DOE did not respond to a request for comment.

This is the first full school year in which schools have had to rely almost entirely on remote learning due to the pandemic, which shut schools last March. In Hawaii, much of the fourth and final quarter of the 2019-20 school year was rendered moot as grades weren’t issued. Ninety percent of high schoolers were on track to graduate last year based on third-quarter grades.

The raging debate here, as in other parts of the country, has been when and to what extent schools should reopen classrooms for in-person instruction. The toll of virtual learning is clear based on students’ flagging academic performance and struggles with mental health.

The majority of Hawaii DOE’s 257 schools are still in either full-distance mode or a hybrid style of instruction: just 12% of elementary schoolers, 5% of middle schoolers and 2% of all high schoolers were back on campus full-time as of December, according to the DOE’s Office of Information Technology Services.

Previously released data for the first quarter, from Aug. 17 to Oct. 2, indicated a high rate of students receiving failing marks and the corresponding rate of students who didn’t turn in any work at all that could be graded.

Now, with the DOE having collected data for the entire first semester, it is clear that lack of work being turned in remains a persistent problem and could be contributing to the dismal high school graduation outlook.

One-third of all high schoolers in Hawaii, or 15,969 students, did not receive a quarterly grade in math. A footnote states some schools could not report grades “where evidence was insufficient.” Meanwhile, just 56% of high schoolers passed math last quarter while 12% of students failed the subject.

High schoolers didn’t fare much better in English: 27% of students, or 14,004, did not receive a grade; 61% of students got a passing grade and 12% of students failed the subject in the second quarter.

There was wide variability among geographic districts. In Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai, more than three-fourths of high schoolers, or 1,652 students, didn’t receive a grade in English last quarter, while 84% of students, or 1,799 students, didn’t get a grade in math.

This could explain why so many of Hawaii high schoolers are not on track to accrue the necessary credits to put them on the path toward timely graduation.

So far, 79% of Hawaii’s seniors, or 6,471 students, are on track to graduate this year. Another 1,839 students — or 3.7% — haven’t turned in enough work for their schools to determine their graduation status. In 2019, 85% of Hawaii students graduated on time, according to DOE data.

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