The Hawaii State Board of Education‘s first-ever retreat on Saturday aimed to go beyond test scores in defining success for public schools and students.

The retreat was held from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. at the First Hawaiian Center. Its participants included not only the nine Board of Education members, but the state’s 15 complex area superintendents and at least 15 other education leaders from across the state, both public and private.

Notable people present included facilitator Terry George, executive vice president of the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda and parent advocate/HEE spokeswoman Kathy Bryant-Hunter.

Perhaps the most significant development of the day came when Matayoshi announced a restructuring of the department.

It was a strategic session to refine the Hawaii Department of Education‘s goals for the next six years, and to critique its to-do list for reaching those goals. It was the first meeting of its kind in the memory of any of the longtime educators and policymakers at the long, long table.

“Today we want to look at action items,” said Board of Education Chairman Don Horner, who hosted the event. “We want to leave here with things to do.”

The primary reason for the meeting was the department’s strategic six-year plan, which has to be submitted to the Board of Education for approval in March. But the department’s plan to apply for exemption from certain federal No Child Left Behind requirements widened the discussion.

To gain flexibility from the requirements, the state would to show it has a better way to hold schools accountable for student success. And a better way to define student success. The department’s application is due in February.

Also serving as context for the discussion was the department’s commitment to national Common Core curriculum standards and its federal Race to the Top obligations to raise student achievement, beef up professional development for teachers and streamline its information systems.

Stephen Schatz, the assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategic Reform, fielded suggestions from the 40-something retreat participants for things that could be used to measure student achievement. The ideas ranged from ACT scores and absences to graduation and college-going rates.

The common theme was that nobody feels assessment scores provide a complete perspective on whether a student is on the right path to a career or college. Sometimes a student may score well on a test but not interact well socially, or give back to the community, pointed out one participant. On the other hand, a smart student who is doing well in school may simply not test well.

“What we want to do is expand that definition of success,” Schatz said.

Schatz also said that he envisions changing the model for determining whether a school meets annual progress benchmarks.

“Right now, that’s determined by whether a school attains a certain cut score on the state assessment,” he said. “But in addition to that, we want to look at growth. We want to look at whether the school has made significant progress in a given year.”

While the energy in the room was positive and it seemed everyone shared common goals, the results of the retreat were not as concrete as it seemed Board of Education Chairman Don Horner expected. And not as concrete as Col. Bill Morrison, the military representative on the Board of Education, would have preferred.

“I think today we’ve done a lot of great work framing the ways to measure success,” he said as the discussion drew to a close. “But I still don’t know…what does the successful student look like? Is it a career- and college-ready individual? Is it a productive member of society? Is it a well-rounded citizen that can apply what he or she learned in school? We’ve created a framework around something I don’t know that we’ve defined.”

“Mr. Schatz is going to tackle that,” replied Horner.

The board chairman told Civil Beat that he felt positive the critiques of the strategic plan will only strengthen it as the department finalizes it over the coming months.

“The retreat has been an encouragement, and it’s not going to be a one-time event,” he said. “The board will host these at least annually.”

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