Hawai‘i's English Learners

Education outcomes of Hawai‘i public school students who are identified as English Learners (ELs).

1. Introduction

Hawai‘i is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse states in the country. Through a partnership with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (DOE), Hawai‘i Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Data Disaggregation Grant, P-20 created this report to tell the story of English Learner (EL) and AAPI students in Hawai‘i's public schools. The following sections explore the linguistic diversity of Hawai‘i’s public schools and examine academic outcomes and best practices for supporting these students.

How many languages do students in Hawai‘i speak?
The graphic below shows the various languages used by public school students, with the larger and bolder text representing languages that are most commonly used.
How to use the charts?

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2. How many ELs are in Hawai‘i?

Source: Official enrollment count and end of-year demographic data.
How is EL status determined?

When students enter public school, if their family indicates they use a language other than English, they are given an English proficiency test.

  • Active EL - Students who do not test proficient receive EL services to support English language acquisition, and are tested each year.
  • Monitored EL - Once students meet minimum English proficiency they no longer receive EL services but are monitored for two years to make sure that they receive instructional support as needed.
  • Former EL - After being monitored for two years, students are considered Former EL.
How does the EL population in Hawai‘i compare to the nation?

In 2016, 9.6% of public school students in the U.S. were Active ELs (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018), compared with 7% for Hawai‘i.

3. Where are ELs located?

Public schools in the Maui region have the highest percentage of Active ELs while the Kauai region has the lowest percentage.
Source: SY1617 official enrollment count and end-of-year demographic data.
"Maui Region" includes Lana‘i and Moloka‘i and "Kaua‘i Region" includes Ni‘ihau.
Order By:              
Source: SY1617 official enrollment count and end-of-year demographic data.

4. What languages do ELs speak?

Graph limited to languages spoken by at least 30 Active ELs.
Source: SY1617 official enrollment count and end-of-year demographic data.
Graph limited to the 20 DOE complexes with the largest counts of Active ELs.
Source: SY1617 official enrollment count and end-of-year demographic data.
Languages and the 3-character language code used within the chart
Code Language
CAN Cantonese
CHU Chuukese
ILO Ilokano
JPN Japanese
KOS Kosraean
MAN Mandarin
MAR Marshallese
SAM Samoan
SPA Spanish
TAG Tagalog

5. How do ELs do in high school and college?

High School Outcomes

On-time graduation tracks whether a 9th grade cohort earns a high school diploma within four years. The pie chart below shows us that nearly one in four high school students were either Active EL in high school or had already exited EL before starting high school.

Source: On-time graduation file and K-12 demographics.
Source: On-time graduation file and K-12 demographics.
Note: The chart above includes the most commonly used languages among Active ELs in the state.

College Outcomes

Generally, students who Exited EL Before High School are more likely to enroll in college immediately in the first fall after high school than students who were Never EL.
Source: On-time graduation file and K-12 demographics.
Overall, students who Exited EL Before High School are most likely to complete college (earn a college degree or certificate) within six years of high school.
Source: On-time graduation file and K-12 demographics.

6. What did we learn?

Key Findings:

  • About 18% of Hawai‘i's public school students are, or have been ELs.
  • While 7% of students statewide receive EL services, in some geographic areas the rate is as high as 22%.
  • Hawai‘i's ELs use over 70 different languages, with Ilokano and Chuukese being the most common.
  • On average, ELs who use Ilokano have better outcomes than ELs who use Chuukese.
  • Students who exit EL services (because they have demonstrated English proficiency) have better outcomes than students who are not EL.
  • For students who exit EL services before high school:
    • 90% graduated high school on-time, compared to 83% for non-ELs.
    • 64% enrolled in college in the first fall after high school, compared to 55% for non-ELs; and
    • 44% completed a college award within six years, compared to 30% for non-ELs.

Next Steps/Key EL Supports:

  • All teachers should continually develop their skills in supporting ELs.
  • EL teachers must have a valid Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) License in the grade level they are assigned to teach.
  • English language development supports are needed for different levels and needs.
  • Developing home language skills promotes bilingualism and biliteracy.
  • More project-based, place-based, and culturally responsive learning opportunities should be provided.
  • Educators should provide access to a variety of college and career pathways:
    • Trades,
    • Career technical education (CTE),
    • Gifted and talented (GT) programs, and
    • Early college and higher education.
  • Whole child, student-focused, engaging instruction supports ELs.
  • Family and community engagement is key to supporting ELs.