Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Teacher evaluations get overhaul

The state moves forward with its plan for a performance-based rating system despite an ongoing dispute with HSTA

By Mary Vorsino


Without union agreement, the state is forging ahead on a pilot program in the coming school year that will substantially change how some public school teachers are evaluated, basing their rating in part on the academic growth of their students.

Officials declined to discuss specifics of the pilot or say how it can move forward without union approval.

"As the days tick by, it gets more and more challenging, but we're going to a start a pilot evaluation system in (school year) '11-'12," said Ronn Nozoe, Department of Education deputy superintendent.

He added, "It probably won't be really shiny and painted all nice. It probably will be a work in progress. But we're going to start somewhere."

The DOE previously has said the pilot and subsequent changes to evaluations would require agreements with the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Given an ongoing contract dispute, a move to implement a new evaluations pilot without HSTA approval is likely to further strain the relationship between the state and union.

HSTA President Wil Okabe said last week that a redesigned evaluation system — along with other proposed changes to working conditions — are clearly issues that need to be collectively bargained. (The current evaluation system for teachers required union approval.)

Okabe added, "We're committed to teacher evaluations. We're willing to negotiate. We want to proceed."

No new negotiations between the DOE and the union have occurred since late June, when the state declared an impasse in talks for a new teacher's contract and subsequently imposed its "last, best and final" contract offer July 1.

The state has said it needed to implement its "last, best" offer, which included pay cuts, furloughs and higher health care premiums, to avoid layoffs or cuts to instructional time.

Prior to imposing the contract offer, the state was in talks on the evaluation system, along with other education reform issues.

Teacher evaluations based partly on student academic growth data — such as test scores — have been a controversial issue locally and nationally, though people on all sides of the debate generally agree that current teachers evaluation systems, which rely predominantly on observation, are flawed and provide little value.

While agreeing in concept to new "performance-based" evaluations, HSTA has expressed concern over how academic growth would be tracked and attributed to a teacher, and what would be considered acceptable progress for a student over the course of the school year.

The DOE has proposed taking the new teacher evaluations statewide in 2014.

OVERHAULING teacher evaluations was a key pledge — and one of several major reforms — included in the state's application for the highly competitive federal Race to the Top grant.

Last August, Hawaii was one of 10 winners — nine states and the District of Columbia — of a second round of the Race grants aimed at boosting student performance, improving teacher effectiveness and turning around low-performing schools. The state's payout is $75 million over four years.

In its Race plan, the state said it would kick off the evaluation pilot this fall with about 1,500 teachers at 14 campuses on Oahu's Leeward Coast and the Kau-Pahoa area on Hawaii island.

Next year the pilot program would expand to an additional 40 schools, before being taken statewide the following year.

Last week the DOE said it planned to seek several amendments to its Race to the Top scope of work, including to time lines for implementing evaluations, but emphasized a pilot evaluation system will be put in place in the upcoming school year.

Nozoe declined to go into details on the proposed amendments, since they still must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

When asked about the labor dispute and how it might affect Race to the Top initiatives, Nozoe said, "This is not an ‘us and them' thing. We're all committed to improving education and learning. The unions are not opposed to improvement."

It's unclear how the longer-term work of implementing new performance-based evaluations statewide will be affected if a pilot doesn't get off the ground this year.

At a legislative briefing on teacher evaluations Thursday, state Sen. Jill Tokuda acknowledged that the issue is moving forward at a time of conflict between the state and teachers union.

HSTA has filed a "prohibited practice" complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board over the state's decision to impose its "last, best" offer, and both sides have accused the other of bad-faith bargaining.

"Let's be honest, we're not in the best position right now as a state," Tokuda said at the briefing. "The relationship is not as great as it needs to be."

Laura Goe, a visiting national expert on teacher evaluations, was asked at the briefing how other states have been able to get new teacher rating systems off the ground. She said, to nods of approval from union representatives in the room, that teacher participation is "critical to getting it done right."

"The states that have had the most success are those that have had the teacher union at the table from the beginning," she said.

Goe, principal investigator for research and dissemination at the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, was in Hawaii all week at the invitation of the DOE. She met with teachers, complex-area superintendents and administrators during her trip, which was not funded by the state.

At the briefing, Goe applauded Hawaii for opting to go with a pilot rather than with an immediate full implementation, saying because performance-based evaluation systems are so new, they still have a lot of problems that need to be addressed.

"There are no perfect measures. There are also no perfect models," she said. "A part of this is just a great big experiment."

Goe said evaluations based in part on student growth do give teachers valuable data for determining their weaknesses and their strengths.

But, she added, there are still a host questions to be answered — not least of which is how to rate teachers whose students aren't tested annually. Another issue is how to determine acceptable growth for different types of students.

"What is a year's growth for kids reading at a third- or fourth-grade level in seventh grade?" Goe asked.

The DOE has said that because of the issues surrounding the new evaluations, the ratings will initially be low-stakes and used to identify the areas in which teachers need additional training.

The current evaluation system for Hawaii teachers rates them on five "duties": designing and implementing effective teaching strategies, creating a positive and safe learning environment, using assessment data, demonstrating professionalism and reflecting on their practices.

Last school year, 99 percent of evaluated teachers were rated "satisfactory," and 1 percent were rated "marginal" or "unsatisfactory." That breakdown is similar to what other states see.

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