The Hawaii Department of Education has made significant progress on most of its key Race to the Top goals, but it has barely touched one controversial area: teacher performance evaluations.

Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi presented an update on its Race to the Top status at a special Board of Education meeting Tuesday afternoon. It was the most detailed report the department has shared since Hawaii was selected to receive one of the coveted federal Race grants last August. The grant gives the state $75 million to be spent over the next four years on systemwide school reforms.

Hawaii’s broad objective is to use data to determine which programs, tactics and teachers are producing the most successful students in school — and to duplicate those successes in every classroom.

The report contained a self-evaluation of its progress on the five major areas where Hawaii has promised reforms. Each category includes a long-term objective, the desired outcome for the 2010-2011 school year year, and the activities planned for this year.

But the department has made the least progress when it comes to teacher evaluations — perhaps the most controversial reform area. They’ve made only small steps toward an eventual goal of negotiating performance-based pay and placement for teachers.

Here’s a look at Hawaii’s progress:

Curriculum and Testing

The Board of Education last year adopted the nation’s first set of curriculum standards that know no state boundaries. Currently, 47 states, Washington D.C. and two territories have agreed to participate in the standards.

Hawaii is also working with a consortium of other states to develop a shared assessment for those new curriculum standards. This year, the department administered the Hawaii State Assessment to all students via an online portal.

  • Activities: 2/3
  • Outcomes: 3/3

Data Systems

Improving its data systems is arguably the most fundamental reform the department is tackling. Current data would help pinpoint what works for students and what doesn’t. In turn, data-driven decisions would help Hawaii institute more effective education policies, and they would help the rest of us to hold administrators accountable.

This year, Hawaii introduced new systems to give more abundant and more immediate student information to teachers and administrators. One thing the department still plans to do is figure out what its technology infrastructure lacks.

Matayoshi told legislators last month that the department needs a new financial management system, which could cost more than $50 million.

  • Activities: 5/6
  • Outcomes: N/A

Teacher and Principal Evaluations

The most fundamental reform may be improving data quality, but evaluating the performance of the people responsible for teaching our keiki is the most controversial. That’s true not only in Hawaii, but the rest of the nation as well.

Hawaii promised in its Race to the Top application that it would institute an annual evaluation of all of its teachers. So far, the department has taken only the first step toward that end. The final step will be negotiating performance-based pay and placement, according to the department’s report.

Activities: 0/4
Outcomes: N/A

School Turnarounds

The department plans to focus attention on struggling schools by providing them with additional resources and holding no bars on restructuring options. Previously, the department has been reluctant to close schools that are not performing as expected.

The department reports that it has brought human resources personnel nearer to the struggling schools via regional service centers, presumably to keep a closer eye on operations at the school level.

  • Activities: 3/4
  • Outcomes: N/A

Streamlining the Department

The department has begun restructuring itself with the aim to give teachers and principals the support they need to spend more time actually educating. It will be interesting to see how it plans to “reduce paperwork and operational inefficiencies.”

  • Activities: 1/4
  • Outcomes: N/A

Civil Beat intern Lynn Nakagawa contributed to this report.

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