DOE director discusses challenges surrounding reading & math test scores


The on-going problem of local high school graduates failing college entry English exams was one of the issues raised in the Senate during Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau's confirmation hearing last week. This was also an issue that Hunkin-Finau raised during her gubernatorial campaign last year.

At a campaign rally last August for educators, Hunkin-Finau, who was a candidate for governor, told the audience that for decades, the national and local test scores for public school students in reading and math “continues to stalemate below average” resulting in heart breaking attempts to pass the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

She pointed to the most recent placement test of about 400 high school graduates, in which “93% of those high school graduates were placed in remedial English and remedial Math” at ASCC.

During last week’s Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i pointed out the increase in the number of high school graduates entering the American Samoa Community College having to take remedial English college courses, because students failed the entrance English test.

Hunkin-Finau acknowledged this as a long standing issue and pointed out for example that last summer placement’s test showed 93% of the 400 graduates didn’t pass the regular English test and therefore needed to retake English courses.

She said this has been the problem for over three decades and she believes the reason is that students are being taught from the lower levels using the English language under a curriculum that is geared towards US students, who comprehend English very well.

Hunkin-Finau went on to note that about 98% of local students speak Samoan at home and this should be taken into consideration when curriculums are developed for public school students.

She recalled for senators a program implemented by a former DOE director, Mrs. Mere Betham, when students in levels 1 to 3 were taught in their native Samoan language and from 4th level up, using the English language to teach students was gradually added.

“This program was successful in passing students entering college level,” she said and pointed out that this is the same method used in countries such as Samoa, Japan and China and their students graduate successfully heading into a brighter future, contributing to the economic developments of their respective countries.

She said things have changed in past years when it comes to student curriculum, but the goal during the tenure of Mrs. Betham, was to “teach our students in our own Samoan language from the lower levels” until a later time, when English is used in classroom teaching.

Responding to a follow up question from Magalei, Hunkin-Finau said, that while she was president of ASCC, she was also the Dean of Instructions and implemented a program for college bound students. Under this program, students in Grades 10 are required to go through testing for college level and take the college entry exam.

She said DOE is close to completing a comprehensive report, which includes classroom teaching, to be submitted to the governor.

During her campaign rally for educators, Hunkin-Finau said American Samoa “cannot continue to graduate students who will struggle in meeting the demands of the global world — a world that demands knowledge and skills in reading, math, science and especially technology.”

“Our students deserve the best education from this department, from the private schools and from this government,” she said, adding that her message is clear, “now is the time to resolve these grave concerns in education.”


Statistics from the 2010 Census for American Samoa show that in 2010, 22% of households spoke equal amounts of English and a second language, but that was only true of 9% of the households in 1990.

Overall, the census reports that Samoan is still the dominant language in the territory, but more and more households speak English as often as Samoan when at home.


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