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Hawaii DOE tweaks teacher evaluations amid concerns

  • george f. lee
    Photos by GEORGE F. LEE /

The state Department of Education on Thursday announced more than a dozen changes being made to its controversial teacher evaluation system amid growing angst from teachers and principals about the workload required to prepare for and perform the reviews.

“The changes reflect the DOE’s commitment to reduce burden on teachers and administrators, and are designed to simplify the (Educator Effectiveness System), streamline its components and differentiate the approach for teachers based on need,” the department said in a statement Thursday. 

It added that the existing system “is too complicated in some areas and too one-size-fits-all in others.”

Overhauling teacher evaluations was a key pledge in the state’s application for its $75 million federal Race to the Top grant. Starting next school year a teacher’s rating will be tied to personnel consequences such as tenure, raises and termination.

Under the EES — which was rolled out statewide last fall — half of a teacher’s annual rating is based on student learning and growth, measured in part by standardized test scores. The other half is based on teaching practices and is rated in part through classroom observations and student surveys.

Only teachers rated as effective or highly effective will be eligible for pay increases in the year after the evaluation, while an unsatisfactory rating will be cause for termination.

Recent surveys have revealed widespread concerns over implementation of the EES, with principals saying the teacher evaluation system has negatively affected their schools and morale; teachers complaining they don’t understand how their performance rating is calculated; and both groups lamenting the time it requires to prepare for and perform the evaluations.

As part of teachers’ 2013-17 labor contract, the state and teachers union agreed to the annual high-stakes evaluations, but the agreement called for a joint committee of DOE and Hawaii State Teachers Association officials to review the design, validity, reliability and supports for the evaluations and recommend changes to improve its design and implementation.

The joint committee was one of five groups providing feedback on the evaluations, and the DOE says it will be implementing a series of 18 changes for the 2014-15 school year, including:

>> Differentiating the number of required classroom observations based on need from twice annually to zero for highly effective teachers; one or more for effective teachers, and two or more for marginal, unsatisfactory, or beginning teachers. The department said overall this means about 9,000 fewer classroom observations, reducing the observation workload by almost 50 percent.

>> Providing the approximately 1,800 teachers rated highly effective in school year 2013-14 the option to carryover their rating in lieu of repeating the evaluation.

>> Reducing the administration of the student survey from bi-annual to annual, eliminating the survey for grades kindergarten to second, and eliminating the demographic questions from the survey. Overall this means about 11,700 fewer survey administrations, or a 63 percent reduction in administered surveys.

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