Hawaii News Schoolchildren rate their teachers By Mary Vorsino June 4, 2012 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Public school students as young as 5 are being asked to consider their classroom experiences in surveys that will soon become one of the high-stakes measures used to evaluate teachers. The surveys — part of a pilot program — were administered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade for the first time in March in 18 schools and will be given in 82 schools next school year, potentially multiple times. The Department of Education declined to release results from the March surveys, saying the data are still being analyzed. While some educators worry the surveys will reflect poorly on teachers who are strict or tough, the surveys’ developers say the questionnaires are research-based and have been found to be highly linked to teacher effectiveness. "We’re asking students about what they’re experiencing in the classroom. They’re not popularity questions," said Rob Ramsdell, director of the Tripod Project, which creates the surveys for dozens of school districts. "We have a lot of reason to believe that kids take it seriously and that the information we’re getting is valuable," he said. While a number of school districts use surveys to improve teaching, just one — Memphis, Tenn. — takes them into consideration when formally evaluating teachers. A handful of others are preparing to do so, including Georgia, which recently launched a pilot program similar to Hawaii’s. Yvonne Lau, administrator of the state Department of Education’s performance management section, said the student surveys are aimed at "better identifying what is happening from the student perspective." Administering the surveys in the school year that just ended cost about $100,000. That figure included technical support, rollout assistance and online access to results. The price tag for next school year has not been finalized. Alex Harris, portfolio manager for the DOE’s strategic reform office, said the surveys allow teachers and schools to hear the "student voice" at a time when there is a considerable push to turn the classroom into a learning community and a place for "two-directional engagement." "These particular student questions are very predictive of teacher and student performance," he said, adding that it would be difficult for students to manipulate the survey. The questions, he said, are not about whether students like or dislike a teacher, but about the environment in a particular classroom. Students in kindergarten through second grade get a proctored, simplified survey, and are asked to weigh in with a "yes," "no," or "maybe" on such statements as, "My teacher is very good at explaining things." Older students are asked to indicate on a five-point scale (totally untrue to totally true) whether they agree with statements like, "My teacher doesn’t let people give up when the work gets hard." The pilot surveys are mainly aimed at giving teachers feedback on their lessons and classroom management style, along with figuring out what kinds of additional training and support teachers need. For now they cannot be used against teachers. In fact, in the school year that just ended, principals weren’t able to see survey results for individual teachers, though they could see anonymous results. But as early as 2014, when Hawaii is set to make a transition to a new performance evaluation system for teachers, the DOE envisions the survey as being one of four components used to determine effectiveness. The other three are student academic growth data, an observation and a teacher’s own assessments of student learning objectives. It’s not yet known, however, what weight the survey will carry in the evaluation. (The Department of Education has pledged that at least half of the new evaluations will be based on measures of student academic growth.) The DOE piloted the survey and other elements of the revamped teacher evaluation system in 18 schools along the Waianae Coast and in the Kau-Pahoa area of Hawaii island. The pilot will expand in the coming school year to an additional 64 schools. The prospect of using the surveys in performance evaluations, which will be tied to pay, tenure and other personnel decisions, has some worried, including the teachers union. Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the department needs to ensure the surveys are "fair and valid." He isn’t convinced students won’t intentionally rate teachers poorly because, for example, they received bad grades. "Students would have to be accountable and responsible for their evaluation," he said. "It’s something that’s brand new. We have to look at it." Susan Arias, a special-education teacher at Nanakuli High, administered the survey to her seventh- and eighth-graders. It took the entire class period, she said. Arias said she believes the survey will become a popularity contest, and doesn’t see how its results could be useful in informing teaching practice — much less in deciding how a teacher is evaluated. "It’s like ‘American Idol,’" she said. "They’ll (students) hold it over teachers’ heads when they realize it’s tied to pay." The DOE and the authors of the surveys, however, say while some students might not be truthful, most will. The danger of manipulated results is low — and decreases further when the survey is administered more than once a year and compared with results over several years. DOE officials also emphasized that the survey would be just one measure of teacher effectiveness. "You have to administer the survey over time," Lau said. "You cannot take survey results and say, ‘That’s it. This is what you are.’" Previous Story In Timbuktu, harsh change under Islamists Next Story Europe’s fade starts to take toll in the U.S.