Editor's Note: After HONOLULU Magazine published its "Grading the Public Schools" issue earlier this year, Hawaii State Teachers Association president Corey Rosenlee argued against its accuracy, meeting with editors and even writing an open letter to outline the detriments of a ranking based on standardized tests. Now, in their own words, HSTA members who teach at Molokai High School share their perspective.

When HONOLULU Magazine published its 2019 “Grading the Public Schools” issue, we were shocked to see Molokai High School at the bottom of the list. Our school received an F after earning a C+ the year prior.

Is it possible we sank to failure in a mere year? 

Let’s consider the facts:

  • Our graduates are currently matriculating at world-class institutions, including Stanford, Cornell, Brown, Columbia, and Duke universities, and Pomona College. 
  • This year, Molokai High School earned a second six-year accreditation, the longest accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). 
  • More than 15 percent of our students are currently taking dual-credit courses at the University of Hawaii Maui College Molokai campus, and the number is growing. 
  • Our robotics team competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition last March in Houston.
  • All three O Hina I Ka Malama Hawaiian language immersion program graduates received the Hawaii State Board of Education’s Seal of Biliteracy for proficiency in Hawaiian and English. 
  • Molokai High School reported the highest percentage of completed FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid for college) applications in Hawaii this year.

As the first quarter of the 2019–20 school year comes to a close, we step back and acknowledge that our students are thriving, and many are on track to graduate with honors and scholarships.

So why the failing grade?

Is HONOLULU Magazine playing a partial, arbitrary numbers game? Why else would the publication release a public schools “ranking” and a private school “guide”? Why are public schools subject to extensive number crunching while private schools enjoy colored spreads devoid of grades, rankings, or numerical measurements?

Did poverty factor into poor test scores? At 52 percent, the majority of our Molokai 2,000 students live at or below the U.S. poverty line.

Did the editors consider the negative impact a failing grade would have on our students, our community, and our island? Whether it was intentional or not, our students were hurt.

But they were not defeated—and neither are we. Our community strongly believes that determination, resilience, and education are stepping stones to clarity and success.

In his open letter to the magazine, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee condemned the link between standardized tests and students’ socioeconomic status. “This simplistic view negates the hard work and dedication of both teachers and students at these schools, many of whom have achieved successes beyond the scope of just one test,” he wrote.

Our challenge to HONOLULU Magazine: Adopt a different approach to measure students. Instead of a single, standardized test, conduct a comprehensive evaluation that views our students as future leaders, not failures.

While grades and rankings don’t scare us, misperceptions do.

So we’re issuing a standing invitation: Leave your urban bubble and see first-hand the magic behind our under-resourced high school and the students we are proud to serve.


Teachers who are proud to stand up for Molokai High School

Back row from left: Kapua Faalele, Rob Bento, Alex Buchanan, Nancy Lawrence, Laura Peterson, Jocelyn Buchalter, Ric Ornellas. Front row from left: Diane Mokuau, Lisa Takata, David Powell, Perry Buchalter, Karen Harada.