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The Hawaii Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan to qualify for federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Obama administration law that hands more control to the states for measuring student achievement.
Board approval of the plan was largely expected. The vote, taken during a packed state Board of Education meeting attended by principals and community members, comes amid a period of transition for the Hawaii public school system.
The newly-hired superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, starts her new job in just over a month. While a few community members voiced a preference to have the vote delayed until Kishimoto starts, they were clearly outnumbered.
“As a board member, I think I have to look at what is really going on,” said Hubert Minn, right before the vote.
He cited recent momentum generated from a new teachers’ contract and the hiring of Kishimoto as a reason for his support: “I think the only thing left is a good plan to start.”
The state ESSA plan has been criticized by some community members because it doesn’t go far enough in pushing more school innovation. They say it focuses too heavily on student assessments — such as testing of proficiency levels in English language and math as accountability measures — that were used under No Child Left Behind, which ESSA replaced.
“I was hoping it would be much more robust in looking to take advantage of the opportunities the federal government was giving us,” said Catherine Payne, chair of the Hawaii State Charter School Commission and a member of the task force, in an interview with Civil Beat.
“I felt as if they (department officials) were continuing a lot of the current status quo as opposed to really making changes.”
Board approval of the plan caps an 18-month-long drafting process that incorporates the state’s broad Strategic Plan for 2017 through 2020 and student accountability framework known as Strive HI.
It’s impossible to discuss the state ESSA plan without referencing an ESSA blueprint drafted by a task force hand-picked by Gov. David Ige in mid-2016.
Ige’s task force caused a stir in some corners. It prompted the resignation of then-BOE member Jim Williams in September 2016, who recently told Civil Beat that Ige “circumvented” the board by convening that team.
“There’s only one Board of Education. He can’t make a second one,” Williams said.
The extent to which the state Department of Education incorporated the task force’s suggestions into its ESSA plan has been a sticking point in the lead-up to Tuesday’s board vote.
The task force’s blueprint, released in March, proposes a framework in which Hawaii measures student success through what’s known as “authentic assessments” built upon performance tasks and senior projects, rather than simply standardized testing.
The blueprint emphasizes career and technical education training, multilingualism dual language programs at the early childhood and elementary school levels and a new assessment model based on a more holistic approach to education. It also stresses early learning, balanced testing, innovation, parent engagement and workforce development.
Stephen Terstegge, a member of the 20-member task force, urged education board members on Tuesday to delay a vote on the state’s ESSA plan, saying that it fails to incorporate such suggestions in the blueprint.
“We are looking at a template that doesn’t really reflect who we are, where we’re going and what we’re about,” he told board members. “The plan doesn’t really show any new shift in thinking. There’s nothing new here. It looks like No Child Left Behind. It’s pro forma.”
Tammi Chun, the assistant superintendent overseeing strategy, innovation and performance at the Department of Education who oversaw the team that developed the state ESSA plan, challenged that assertion during her own remarks to Board members.
“We believe it pushes the boundaries a little in some of the areas we’re expected to do so,” she said, adding the goal for now is to secure federal funding and that it still provides room for schools to innovate.
Federal funding accounts for about 14 percent of Hawaii’s $1.9 billion budget.
The state ESSA plan will include an attachment of the task force blueprint. The board also voted to amend the plan to acknowledge the importance of promoting multilingualism.
Ige has 30 days to sign off on the plan and send it to the federal government by September 18. The state can still submit the ESSA plan to the feds without the governor’s signature.
Board members also thanked and praised outgoing Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi’s, who was attending her final meeting.
The board did not renew Matayoshi’s contract, paving the way for the selection of a new superintendent.