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New Online Data Tools Changing the Way Hawaii’s Public School Students Learn

New tech tools are allowing teachers to tailor their lesson plans to individual students more than ever.


(page 3 of 4)

Barry McCorkell, curriculum coordinator at Ilima Intermediate (in green aloha shirt), puts together data teams of teachers so they can collaborate, share information and craft strategies together rather than struggle alone.

Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams

Of course, all the data in the world doesn’t do any good if you don’t have the time to interpret what you’ve got.

Beyond the classroom, school administrators and data coordinators are hard at work finding ways to make data effective and efficient to use for teachers, who may not have time to pore over each individual student’s data once the school year begins. The administrators and data coordinators can break down data for the teachers organized by student, by subject, by teacher, or by cohort as students move as a group year after year. This information can be streamlined for the teachers at data team meetings, freeing up more time for them to focus on how they can help their students right now.

Barry McCorkell is the curriculum coordinator at Ilima Intermediate and part of his job is putting together data teams that share information and best strategies with each other, rather than leaving teachers to figure everything out on their own. Now teachers in the same subject areas meet regularly to compare notes on how their students are doing, come up with strategies to help them improve and set goals to help them get there. One of the advantages of being able to use real-time data is that if educators see something isn’t working, they can immediately revise their lesson plans and set new goals.

“That has really helped out,” says Cole. As several educators noted, the instant feedback gained from frequent quizzing is certainly more relevant than receiving Hawaii State Assessment results over the summer when the students who took the test are no longer in class and are likely about to move on to new teachers.

One of the most significant differences from No Child Left Behind is that under the new Hawaii Growth Model, data teams aren’t just collaborating on how to help students performing just below grade-level to meet proficiency on the Hawaii State Assessment. For years, meeting proficiency benchmarks on the HSA was the measure for determining whether a school would be put under sanctions that ranged from mandatory tutoring to having someone else take over the school. With those threats hanging over them, many schools focused on under-performing students who just needed some help to catch up.

“When you’re focusing on kids really close to the cut line, there’s no credit for children’s improvement and no incentive to bringing kids to excelling,” notes assistant superintendent Stephen Schatz, who is in charge of strategic reform. “It’s not just whether you’re at a particular level or made progress over the years. The scores drove the resources.”

The perception that schools were essentially teaching to the test raised the ire of parents of students on the extreme ends of the spectrum who felt schools were pouring resources into getting middling students to meet proficiency, in some cases at the expense of gifted and special education programs.

But as Schatz explained, when developing the Strive HI performance system, the DOE worked with a community hui to come up with the factors they felt were really important for evaluating a school’s performance, including using hard data such as test scores in language arts, science and math, ACT test results, college-going rates, growth on test scores as well as behavior issues.

Under the new Hawaii Growth Model, even the highest-performing students have to show improvement and there’s no giving up on the lowest-performing students, and, in fact, there’s pressure to close the achievement gaps between all groups of students. For schools that have generally scored well on the backs of their most gifted students, the new performance system puts pressure on them to make sure all their students are showing growth. Instead of resting on their laurels, “high achieving kids still need to move,” says Tammie Picklesimer, who leads the Hawaii Educator Effectiveness System team.

However, Picklesimer believes that there’s a new wealth of data available to help raise student performance. Educators can now look beyond test scores to see if there are underlying issues, such as a history of behavioral problems or chronic absenteeism, one of the risk signs for potential dropouts. “We can go into the system right now, identify those kids and work with them and try to figure out how to help them,” she says.

For teachers, part of the incentive for putting in the extra effort for all students is that their test scores and feedback will factor into teacher evaluations, as agreed to in the last contract negotiations between the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Ilima Intermediate Principal Jon Henry Lee feels strongly that no teacher is going to give up on a student regardless of evaluations. But he recognizes that having student performance tied to teacher evaluations adds stress to teachers. There haven’t been any resignations, but teachers have come in to share their frustrations and concerns with him over all the changes.

As Cole points out, “You have to adjust to all these new things that are thrown at you. It’s definitely a work in progress. Everyone is on edge.”

Cole was initially opposed to having student data reflect on his teaching performance—not all students are going to come to school ready to learn, after all—but he’s more optimistic now. “Anything new is going to be hard,” he says. “Do I wish it wasn’t there? Of course. But since it is, you can look at the glass being half-full and I’ll be a better teacher and it’ll benefit the students.”

The real question is what will happen if a teacher ends up with a group of kids who have a hard time performing at grade level, which can feel like a dysfunctional and overwhelming situation. But Cole says teachers frustrated by the system still keep trying. “If your job is on the line, you’ll do anything to keep that job. If that means changing up all of your teaching, you’re going to do it. It’s your livelihood on the line.”

Although the changes keep teachers on their toes, Cole doesn’t necessarily view that as a bad thing. He’s pushing hard to give his students the best instruction he can, including putting in the time to review data to craft lesson plans that work. “I like to make things relevant. You have to make it fun. You have to make things up. If I have to get on my knees and bark like a dog, I’m not afraid to do that,” he says.

At first, some teachers felt overwhelmed by the emphasis on data. Many feared a lot more work piled on them and resisted the shift. But now that’s changing, Cole says. “We’ve been doing it for a couple years now and I see the good in it, especially the collaboration with the other teachers—not just to compare numbers, but to help people along.” While the system focuses first on the students, Cole sees the data also assisting the teachers who are struggling. And helping the teachers ultimately helps the students excel. 

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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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