Hawaii will no longer mandate grading public school teachers on how well their students perform on standardized tests, a requirement that most teachers had argued was unfair and ultimately hurt students by placing an overemphasis on tested subjects.
The state Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved revising its teacher evaluation policy to remove student test scores as a required measure of student learning and growth.
Since the 2013-14 school year, teachers have been evaluated annually under what’s known as the Educator Effectiveness System, with half of a classroom teacher’s rating based on student learning and growth, measured by test scores and data-driven academic goals. The other half is based on teacher practice, measured through classroom observations and student surveys.
Only teachers rated as effective or highly effective are eligible for collectively bargained pay increases. Teachers rated as marginal are given an opportunity to improve, while an unsatisfactory rating is cause for termination.
The BOE policy now says measurements of student learning and growth “may include but are not limited to statewide assessments and other relevant student learning objectives.”
In recommending the change, Department of Education officials pointed to the recent overhaul of America’s national education law, which President Barack Obama signed into law in December. The new law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, replaces No Child Left Behind and significantly shifts the balance of control over education policy away from the federal government and back to the states.
“One of the things that we feel like we have more flexibility on is what are those components of a teacher evaluation system, and not being as closely tied to or required to have testing as a huge part of the evaluation,” schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Hawaii was one of 42 states granted a federal waiver from the most outdated No Child Left Behind mandates over the past few years. Under the waivers, the feds essentially required states to craft teacher evaluation systems tied to student test scores, as well as adopt standards and assessments aligned to the Common Core.
But even before the state received a waiver, the Board of Education in 2012 had implemented its own policy requiring the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, and the following year negotiated the requirement into its collective bargaining agreement with the 13,500-member Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Evaluation results from 2013-14 and 2014-15 showed the majority of teachers — 98 percent — were deemed highly effective or effective educators, the highest of four categories.
Matayoshi said the policy change, while significant, should not be viewed as backpedaling.
“We tried something really big and bold, and as we were going forward, we learned a lot. We got a lot of feedback, and what we’re trying to do is make it really true to its original purpose, which is to improve teacher practice and not to punish people or push people out,” she said.
“It’s not about the quality of the teaching somehow being lowered. It’s more about taking away some of the pieces that weren’t adding to the quality of the teaching,” Matayoshi said, citing as an example a lag between when students are tested and a teacher receives their evaluation rating.
HSTA leaders supported the change and pledged to work with the department “to ensure that our evaluation system advances professional growth with reliability and integrity.”
“Removing student scores on standardized tests from teacher evaluations will restore responsibility for learning to dedicated teachers and begin to reinstate respect as the core value on which educator assessment rests,” Mililani High School teacher Amy Perruso, the HSTA’s secretary/treasurer, testified before the BOE’s Human Resources Committee on Tuesday.
“In addition, we have the potential to return ‘whole child education’ to its rightful place in promoting creativity and human development,” she said. “Career and technical education will also be bolstered by moving away from testing-centered descriptions of student growth.”
The DOE and the teachers union are expected to sign off on a memorandum of understanding to reflect the departure from what’s in the union contract, which expires on June 30, 2017.
Although the BOE unanimously approved the policy change, some members voiced concerns about the reversal.
BOE member Jim Williams, who was part of the contract negotiations, said the agreement to link evaluations to test scores came about because the administration at the time wanted to hold teachers accountable for the wage increases.
The union agreed to the annual high-stakes evaluations, but the labor contract called for a joint committee of DOE and HSTA officials to review “the design, validity and reliability” of the Educator Effectiveness System, or EES, and to recommend changes for “continuous improvement” of its design and implementation.
“You asked for it to be high stakes but you didn’t know that’s what you were asking for,” Williams said. “The public isn’t going to buy teachers saying, ‘Well, just leave it to us. We know what we’re doing. We don’t need evaluations.’ They’re also not going to buy that it doesn’t matter how the students perform.”
Kapolei High School teacher Joan Lewis, who sits on the joint EES committee, said test scores can serve as a helpful tool but are not a full measure of a teacher’s abilities or a student’s education.
“It’s supposed to be a system, whether it’s in the classroom or in my evaluation, of where are we now, where are we trying to be, what is keeping us from getting where we want to be, what is it we need to change, what might we need,” Lewis said. “It’s much more in the process and the reflection than it ever is in an outcome.”