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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Don Young, the dean of the University of Hawai‘i College of Education, says new teachers will need a different kind of support when it comes to evaluations.
“If you look at the investment a student has made to become a teacher, and the work we’ve done to ensure our candidates are job-ready, if a new teacher finds themselves in a circumstance in their first year of not performing satisfactorily, the answer should be: How do we find the support for that teacher,” Young says.
And in many ways, the state has a built-in support system on the school and complex level ready to help new teachers, says the DOE’s Nozoe. According to the state’s new strategy, it is expected that teachers at every school are collaborating and giving each other feedback. Teachers are expected to use data to inform their instruction, and work in teams to support one another. Professional development is also provided on the school level.
“This is a huge change from how we used to do things. The supports are embedded in every school, every complex, every district. Those are the fundamental components of our strategy. When you look at every school’s academic plans, those strategies are embedded in those plans,” Nozoe says.
The state has also indexed a host of online workshops and classes that may help a teacher improve his or her effectiveness, he says.
Young says UH’s College of Education is also integrating a candidate evaluation system that is similar to the new evaluations used by the public schools. The system, edTPA, is used nationally and reviews a teacher candidate’s work and requires them to undergo multiple measures similar to EES. Eventually, Young says, the hope is that both EES and edTPA will align.
“In terms of our candidates, once this is fully implemented, they will be very well prepared for EES. It will not be anything new to them,” Young says.
UH’s College of Education has hired several new faculty members who will be working with graduates three years into their employment to continue to support them as they grow as beginning teachers.
“Our hope is to stop the bleeding of teachers leaving the profession after three to five years,” Young says.
State officials say the evaluation is not necessarily about finding the bad apples, but that’s not the prevailing perception of the evaluation system on the school level.
Koren Uyemura, on the Castle High School campus.
PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING
Koren Uyemura, a math teacher at Castle High School, says her concern is that the state has created a cumbersome process to identify bad teachers, but it affects good teachers by adding extra work, which takes time away from the classroom.
“The really good teachers aren’t concerned. Our nature is to do things above and beyond. The thing is, the administrators know who the bad teachers are. The teachers know who they are. But they’re going to make everyone go through this painful process to have a way of measuring it?” she says. “The really good teachers are being punished.”
When she first started teaching 10 years ago, Uyemura says the emphasis was on building well-rounded students and critical thinkers. Slowly, as more and more reforms have been implemented, the emphasis has shifted to tracking data and analyzing data. And now that student data is linked to evaluations, there is added pressure on teachers, she says.
“As far as the workload goes, it takes a lot of time away from my lesson planning when I need to take time away to track data and analyze data. I have to make more time in my day to make sure I am meeting those goals. It creates a weird priority for teachers,” she says.
Karen Meyer, theater teacher at Castle High School, says that the emphasis on empirical data in evaluations also means that teachers can’t be as creative as they’d like to be in their lessons. Everything has to be measurable, she says.
As a drama teacher, Meyer often would require her students to attend a live production of a play in the community and then write a paper about it. Not all students would see the same show. The problem becomes, if Meyer has to measure all her students against the same Student Learning Objective, they can’t all go see different shows based on their interests.
“Because of the SLOs, you have to have the same prompt for all the kids, which means they all have to see the same thing. I’ve had to change my teaching because of this requirement. I don’t know very many teachers who haven’t changed the way they teach,” Meyer says.
Meyer also says it’s problematic to take student evaluations of a teacher into account when reviewing performance. Right now, under the new EES, students participate in what’s known as a Tripod survey to evaluate their teachers. The results are a small part of a teacher’s overall score.
“I bet you there was one teacher you hated and you can look back now and say, ‘Gosh, I learned so much from that teacher.’ Students are not always at the level to appreciate what they are going through,” Meyer says.
In the end, the state admits the evaluation system is a work in progress and is not the solution to the woes of the public schools. Over the next few years, the state will continue to refine the system with feedback from teachers and administrators.
“It’s not a silver bullet. It’s a confluence of things that will improve our schools: improved instruction, improved leadership, improved functioning at state offices. This is hard and complicated work, and the evaluation is just one way to check on progress,” Nozoe says.