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Do the New Teacher Evaluations Help Improve Hawai‘i’s Public Schools?

The state rolled out its teacher evaluation system last year, much to the consternation of some educators. This year, there’s a new and improved version, but questions remain about what role evaluations play in better schools for Hawai‘i.


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Kailua Intermediate principal Lisa DeLong is hoping for more teacher/student engagement. 
Photo: olivier koning


Ask Kailua Intermediate principal Lisa DeLong where she’d like to see her teachers improve, and she’ll admit it’s in student engagement. She arrived on the Junior Surfrider campus three years ago and noticed a stark difference from her previous experience on the elementary school level. Elementary schools are often colorful, with seats arranged in clumps or circles, she says, with the voices of young children singing or reciting lessons filling the hallways. “Secondary campuses can be quite sterile—the desks arranged in rows,” she says. “It’s very easy to lose students when instruction isn’t engaging.”


Koren Uyemura, a math teacher at Castle High School, says the extra work required for teacher evaluations takes time away from the classroom.

When the state Department of Education rolled out a new teacher evaluation system last fall, one that came with a hefty share of controversy, DeLong took it as an opportunity to forge ahead on the work she and her teachers had been doing to elevate the level of instruction happening on her campus. 


SEE ALSO: How Did Hawai‘i’s Public Schools Rank in 2015?


“Right now, we’re in an environment where there are a lot of changes,” DeLong says, referring to pressure on teachers to implement new Common Core curriculum, practice data-driven teaching and, now, the stress of performance evaluations. “It can seem overwhelming,” she says. “The main thing we communicated was that we wanted teachers to be successful. They wanted to know we were there to support them.”


DeLong and her two vice principals each took on about 17 teachers, holding pre-evaluation conferences, observing teachers in their classrooms, discussing ways for teachers to improve their practices and then re-observing the teachers to see how they’ve integrated the feedback into their teaching. 


And that’s only part of what’s required by the new reviews. In all, it was a complicated and time-consuming process for both the teachers and the principals, DeLong says. The new evaluation system was widely criticized statewide for being cumbersome, paperwork-heavy and taking way too much time away from the classroom.


“The main concern was around time,” DeLong says. “This is not something that is easy to understand, but teachers need time. They need time to develop lessons, collaborate with one another, give feedback to their students, grade assignments, communicate with parents.”


For a secondary teacher with a single 45-minute prep period, that means teachers spend an average of 20 seconds per student planning, grading and analyzing his or her progress, DeLong says. That’s hardly considered enough time to take on a time-consuming task like performance evaluations—which some teachers have estimated take upward of 20 to 30 hours over the course of a school year—to gather and analyze data on their students, prepare and implement learning objectives and sit in pre- and post-observation meetings with their evaluators.


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Honolulu Magazine August 2020