Despite widespread consternation about the state’s educator evaluation system, most of Hawaii’s public school teachers got high marks for their performance this past school year, according to Department of Education data released and presented to the school board Tuesday. 

The vast majority of the 11,300 teachers who were evaluated  — 82 percent —were rated “effective” this past school year. Sixteen percent of them were rated “highly effective,” the top score, while 2 percent got “marginal” ratings. Just 0.2 percent of them were rated “unsatisfactory,” the lowest-possible score. 

Teachers’ scores were based on a combination of several components, including student testing and classroom observations. 

“Some of the fear people have about how this would turn out (is) really unfounded,” said Board of Education Human Resource Committee Chairman Jim Williams, a former president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “The impression is given that … just because a few kids did bad on a test, we’re going to get rid of a teacher. If you’re high in other areas your overall rating is still going to be effective.”

Stock Photo: Students answering teacher question

All Hawaii’s public school teachers are subject to a new performance-based evaluation system that affects their salaries.

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But Williams and a number of other state school board members also criticized changes being made to the system. Some board members also challenged the integrity of the first-year data and raised questions about parent and student involvement. 

The 18 changes significantly modify the system that was in place during the 2013-14 school year, including eliminating the part of the rubric based on student surveys and cutting the frequency of key requirements in half. The updates, announced in June, are designed to streamline the evaluation process and bolster student learning and have been generally well-received by educators who said the old system was too time-consuming and confusing. 

The feedback Tuesday from board members, however, told a different story. They said the revisions could further complicate the evaluations and minimize their effectiveness in advancing student achievement.

“If we stayed the course and don’t give in to the anxiety in the long run, it’s all going to stabilize, and people are going to see the wisdom of why” the original evaluation system was the way it was, said BOE Vice Chairman Brian De Lima on Tuesday. “It’s only going to cause more problems down the road.”

Some Results Carry Forward

The evaluation system was implemented statewide last school year but without any major stakes attached. Moving forward, the evaluations factor into teachers’ pay. For example, teachers who get a “marginal” rating this school year will not receive a pay increase the following year.

The 1,800 or so teachers who got a “highly effective” rating can carry over their 2013-14 scores and are exempt from many of the evaluations’ requirements this year. 

The changes reflect the recommendations of an eight-member joint committee consisting of department officials and teachers union representatives who met over the past year, along with feedback from past years.

The final scores of the new system are based on four components that look at teachers’ impact on student learning and their instructional practice, though the weight of the individual elements varies depending on the teacher.

Student test scores, for example, will account for 25 percent of the evaluations for teachers who oversee tested grades or subjects — math and English in grades three through eight and 10 — while they make up just 5 percent of those for teachers who don’t. Slightly more than half of the state’s public school teachers fall in that second category, such as social studies or art teachers

The new evaluation system consists of four components, down from five. The fifth component was based on student surveys, but was eliminated because it was so contentious. 

BOE Stands by Student Surveys, Frequent Student Learning Objectives

A joint DOE-Hawaii State Teachers Association survey conducted among a few thousand teachers this spring revealed that nearly two-thirds of them “strongly disagreed” that their students would put thought and effort into their survey answers. (About 92 percent of teachers ended up scoring in the top two tiers for the surveys.)

Now the surveys are being eliminated for teachers who oversee grades kindergarten through two and factored into a separate component — “Core Professionalism,” which rates teachers’ contributions outside of the classroom — for the remaining ones. 

A number of board members, including Williams, sharply criticized this change.

“That’s hard for me to process,” Williams said, noting that many other school districts use survey responses from young children. “It’s reducing the impact of student perception, and the clarity of that by incorporating it into the other measure … I think it’s a step backward.”

Board member Patricia Halagao agreed, also questioning how the DOE is giving parents an opportunity to chime in on evaluations. As of now they have little say in teachers’ scores.

Williams also criticized the DOE for reducing the number of required “Student Learning Objectives” — customized goals set by teachers for each class — from two to one for most teachers. For the SLOs, a teacher sets a goal for a class of students and develops plans for how to assess and achieve that objective. 

Feedback on the first version of the evaluation system contended that the two SLOs were too time-consuming and had little return on investment.

But Williams said the change could do more harm than good, and that it’s the board and department’s job to prevent that from happening.

“It makes it more high risk, all in the interest of ‘it’s too much work to do two,’” he said. “But now I only got one to hang my hat on.”

One of the biggest controversies surrounding teacher accountability — locally as well as nationally — involves the use of student test scores. The issue also came up at Tuesday’s BOE meeting, particularly because the state this school year is using a new Common Core-aligned student assessment that is replacing former ones. 

DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe emphasized that the test scores count insomuch as they reflect relative student growth: how students are advancing compared with their peers and with past performance. Even though basing growth on the scores used this year and those used in years past is like comparing apples to oranges, Nozoe said, the data can be extrapolated to measure relative performance. The DOE is also “working extensively” with consultants to smooth out the shift in assessments.

Limited Release of Results to Public

 Board Member Amy Asselbaye, whose child attends Aina Haina Elementary School, noted that she didn’t receive the fifth grader’s 2013-14 test scores until the Monday before the meeting — months after the end of the end of the school year, even though the assessments are computerized.

She questioned why parents receive the data so late. 

“As a parent it’s very hard to use this information most effectively because of the timing of the results coming back to us,” she said. The scores “come back to the schools immediately and are factored into teacher performance immediately, but parents are informed somewhere down the line.”

Moreover, the DOE is only making public the summary results of scores statewide — not data that’s broken down by region or school. The department’s Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe explained that the DOE isn’t yet “opening up” the data on a more detailed level because the system is so new.

Still, board members touted the evaluation system for looking at a medley of factors such as how students perform relative to their peers and past achievement levels — not just static test scores. The results reveal that, generally speaking, teachers receive stronger scores for their professionalism than they do for student performance.

“That’s the reason why we have multiple measures in an evaluation,” Nozoe said. We “don’t put undue or disproportionate focus on any one area. Teaching is very complex and dynamic and changing … It’s really important to providing the most well-rounded picture that we can.”

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