Focus turns from tests

LIHUE — The Board of Education’s vote to change a policy that required principals to consider test results in teacher evaluations is a win for educators, said several local teachers.

“Finally, someone is listening to the teachers,” said Megan Nii, a third-grade teacher at Elsie Wilcox Elementary School. “The students’ standardized testing scores is not a fair and equitable way to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness in teaching.”

The change takes effect in the upcoming school year. Under the change, the choice of considering test results during evaluations lies with the school’s principal.

“We didn’t sign up to teach children how to take a test,” Nii said. “We signed up to teach children. I’m hoping this will be the first step toward getting rid of the tests. The money and effort spent on testing should be spent educating children.”

Megan Pillos, another third-grade teacher, said teachers can’t choose where the students come from.

“Teachers who work with students from areas which are not ‘well-to-do’ work a lot harder to get students to reach the same level as students who are in a more ideal environment,” she said.

Pillos said there have been teachers who do not want to go through the pressure of testing and have down-graded to positions where the tests are not given.

“Testing doesn’t make school fun for the students, anymore,” she said. “We spend at least one quarter preparing the students for testing and applying the tests.”

The decision to change the policy was backed by the Hawaii Department of Education.

“These changes allow for flexibility and are the result of continuous improvement, analysis and collaboration over years,” said Hawaii Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “We will continue to focus on supporting the development of our teachers and advancing student learning.”

Education officials had argued test results would bring about better feedback for educators and hold teachers responsible for failing students.

In the 2014-15 school year, 35 percent of Hawaii’s 12,350 teachers were given a “highly effective” rating. About 62 percent were considered effective, and less than 1 percent were rated marginal or unsatisfactory.

But teachers said the tests were not fair because of the impact on educators with large numbers of struggling students.

“Every child takes the same test,” said Lindsay Wuh, another third-grade teacher. “It doesn’t matter if they have special needs, or doesn’t understand the English language well. Testing puts a lot of pressure on the students as well as the teachers.”

Hawaii’s teachers were pleased with the board’s decision Tuesday, saying it would help address the state’s teacher shortage.

Amy Perruso, a social studies teacher at Mililani High School on Oahu, said, “We are hoping that a change in the evaluation system will have a positive impact on teachers, and we will be able to retain more and even recruit highly-professional teachers.”

Cory Nakamura, Wilcox school principal, said he hasn’t had time to get the details of the decision. He said all of the school’s teaching positions are filled.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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