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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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The Educator Effectiveness System integrates work the state has done to reform its collection and analysis of student performance data, known as the Strive HI performance system. In short, the state’s goal is for data to revolutionize the way Hawai‘i teachers do their jobs. Longitudinal data allows principals, curriculum coordinators and teachers to track students throughout their academic careers, enabling educators to develop personalized strategies to maximize student results.


The teachers we spoke with say the use of data is changing the classroom. It’s also changing the way teachers are evaluated. 


Joan Lewis, an English teacher at Kapolei High School, says she also plays the roles of counselor and mentor.

Joan Lewis, an English teacher at Kapolei High School, has been teaching for 26 years. As a veteran educator, Lewis says she welcomed the chance to prove her ability to provide high-quality instruction. The evaluation’s emphasis on data, however, reduces her teaching and her students to numbers, she says, instead of looking at kids as whole people.


“I think the emphasis on data does a disservice to the students,” she says. Teachers have to focus not just on helping students with academics, but helping kids grow as people, too. “For students, focusing on hitting numbers and targets, they can hit all those numbers and still not be good people.”


And there are variables in teaching that are hard to account for on evaluations, Lewis says. Students may show up to class in the morning after dealing with a rough family situation the night before. It’s not unusual, she says, to come across students who do poorly on a test because they are distracted by a breakup or some other personal issue. Teachers aren’t only expected to teach their subject matter, they’re also expected to play the role of counselor, mentor and role model. 


“Part of the scrutiny is that people are trying to find an easy answer. Education is a human business. Let’s talk about the whole child. Let’s talk about the other things that aren’t measurable,” she says.


Lewis is part of Kapolei High School’s Ho‘ola Leadership Academy, which operates as a completely self-contained school within a school for students who are at risk or in need of special attention. While Lewis’ focus is teaching English, she says she also spends time instilling values like connectedness to each other and being productive members of society. “Those kinds of things can’t be measured on a graph,” she says.


Some teachers, however, see the new evaluations proving useful.


Jhameel Meyer, curriculum coordinator at Wahiawā Middle School, believes that the new evaluation is an improvement over the old system. At best, she says, the old system asked teachers to reflect on their own teaching. The new way of evaluating is much more detailed and systematic.


“I didn’t need to use data to drive my instructional practices to make changes. This may have been something that I could have done on my own, but nothing told me that what I was doing was working or if I needed to make changes,” she says.


Meyer says the old system was not geared toward a teacher making changes to affect student achievement, either.


“Some teachers may not be happy with the new system,” Meyer says. “However, it uses data to drive instructional practices and change. It encompasses students success and achievement at the heart of it.”


The road to reforming Hawai‘i’s teacher evaluation system was a difficult one and included prolonged negotiations with the teachers’ union over tying evaluations to pay. While the teachers’ union continues to disagree with aspects of “pay for performance,” as part of the teachers’ new labor contract, which runs through 2017, the state and HSTA agreed that a teacher’s potential to receive a pay raise would be tied to his or her evaluation. 


The rollout of the new evaluation system last fall was relatively “stakes free,” and was implemented with a do-no-harm attitude, says Ronn Nozoe, deputy superintendent of the DOE. Over the next few years, however, stakes will tie results to raises and teachers who receive the worst rating of unsatisfactory could be fired.


Nozoe, however, stresses that the state is not seeking to “fire its way to better schools.” Quite the opposite. The DOE’s hope is that the evaluation system becomes one more tool at the disposal of administrators to improve the quality of instruction.


“One of the tendencies is for people to look at the hiring and firing nature of evaluation, and I understand that,” Nozoe says. “We want the evaluation to highlight the components of effective teaching. The goal is to have every single teacher improving and cognizant of what they need to be doing to continue to improve.”


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Honolulu Magazine May 2019