Hawaii Education Test Scores Rank Poorly When Compared Globally

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Graphic: Emily Metcalf

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – A what is being “first of its kind study”, released by the George W. Bush Institute, shows how Hawaii and other school districts throughout the United States stack up against global competitors.

The Global Report Card for America’s schools (GRC) found that American students, even those in affluent suburban school districts, lag behind their global peers with “mediocre” results.


Hawaii also ranks poorly. In 2007, the latest data available, Hawaii scores a 29 percent in math and a 39 percent in reading.

(“The GRC score indicates the level of math or reading achievement by the average student in a public school district compared to student achievement in a set of 25 developed countries. The score represents the percentage of students in the international group who would have a lower level of achievement. For example, a percentile of 60 means the average student in a school district would perform better than 60% of the students in the international group.”)

When Hawaii students scores are compared to their peers in Canada, Hawaii drops to a 20 percent in math and 28 percent in reading.

Singapore students do even better when compared with Hawaii as Hawaii students score just 15 percent in math and 31 percent in reading.

Hawaii compared with Switzerland shows Hawaii students do a bit better with 39 percent in reading and 22 percent in math but that is still far below students in Switzerland.

The comparison is intended to provide a true measure of how America’s students stack up against international competitors, said authors Jay Greene, a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and professor of education at the University of Arkansas, and Josh B. McGee

Dr. Kerri Briggs, program director for education reform at the Bush Institute and former U.S. assistant secretary for education, said “The results of this study should inspire parents and influential citizens to get engaged in the reform effort. American students in both poor urban districts and some of the wealthiest suburbs are trailing behind the international competition.”

The report card, which is interactive, compares the academic performance (based on test scores) of 14,000 U.S. school districts to the average of a group of 25 developed countries.

Because it is interactive, the public can log on and compare their school districts, including Hawaii’s central school district, to scores of their peers in France, Australia, Israel, Slovenia, and Singapore.

The authors, who are featuring their report in Education Next, said all but two of the 25 countries have lower per-capita GDP than the United States.

See www.globalreportcard.org to compare school district data.

“The Global Report Card reveals that many of our most affluent suburban school districts rank near the middle when compared with the student achievement of our international peers,” said Greene. “Parents should be concerned that their children will be competing in the jobs market with young people abroad who are outperforming their kids.”

He said schools located in America’s 50 wealthiest suburbs  – such as Greenwich, CT; Palo Alto, CA; and Reston, VA – tested poorly compared to their international peers. In fact, the authors note that their test scores were “exceeded by 48 percent of students in the typical developed country.”

“Never before has anyone put virtually every school district in the United States on the same level playing field on which all the industrialized nations of the world are performing,” said Paul Peterson, editor-in-chief of Education Next. “Now that Greene and McGee have done just that, we learn, unfortunately, that very few schools in the United States are capable of bringing their students up to major-league levels.”

Hawaii lawmakers and public education officials have been asked to review this report, but they have not yet responded. Their comments will be included in updates of this story.





  1. National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

    This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

    If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our teaching tactics with real life projects.

    Alan Cook

  2. If your teachers won't put in the hours to meet State Requirements what do you expect? I was a teacher and saw stoned teachers, students and staff. When I asked about testing. NO! I asked about an entrance exam for High School. No! I was finally driven from the system. Could the HSTA get a raise? YES! The HGEA and UPW would have to strike. The HSTA has 7 Million in property value to borrow against to keep teachers in groceries. When my family was in the Union the idea was solidarity. Unions today are meant to keep workers from being responsible and Union Bosses in high cotton. I said this in 2002,2004,2006. Oh and while NCLB was a tourniquet where a bandage would have done. Each year the HI DOE improves because they are forced to. So in 2014 I am going to run again. My grandkids go to a Charter School which gets less money and produces twice the results

  3. Parents should be concerned that their children will be competing in the jobs market with young people abroad who are outperforming their kids.

  4. Now that Greene and McGee have done just that, we learn, unfortunately, that very few schools in the United States are capable of bringing their students up to major-league levels.

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