ESSA ‘Still tied to test scores’

LIHUE — Despite months of negotiation and meetings, the Every Student Succeeds Act hasn’t undergone the changes that the Hawaii State Teachers Association wants to see.

“The ESSA plan, 80 percent of it, is still tied to test scores,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “We still believe that it’s too much teaching for the test and too focused on standardized tests.”

The period for public comments regarding the new ESSA, which will replace No Child Left Behind, ended on May 18. Lindsay Chambers, a spokesman from the state Department of Education, said the state is working out the details and going through feedback from the public. They intend to submit the ESSA plan for funding to the DOE in September.

The new ESSA is being implemented to narrow the government’s role in elementary and secondary education while shifting federal accountability provisions to each individual state.

During Tuesday’s BOE meeting, the board voted to approve the framework that will meet the requirements for the new ESSA, but Rosenlee said the new act doesn’t make sense, particularly since standardized testing still plays a prominent role in the new law.

“We have a couple of concerns,” Rosenlee said. “One is that the Board of Education made a tremendous effort to hire a new superintendent in order to change Hawaii’s education. And what they’re doing is putting in a plan based on the last superintendent. So now the new superintendent is going to come in with her hands tied to the previous superintendent’s philosophy.”

Another concern is the process of teacher evaluations, which Rosenlee said he is advocating for a more reflective process.

“Instead of saying our teachers have to predict where our students will be, what we’re simply working on is to reflect on the year and try to improve practice,” he said.

Rosenlee also called for observations to focus on new teachers, rather than spending time on teachers “already effective.”

He added he doesn’t understand how the new superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, will be able to make changes if the plan doesn’t allow her to do so. And while the HSTA didn’t nominate or support Kishimoto for the superintendent role, Rosenlee said the union and its teachers will do the best they can to make the relationship work.

“We would have preferred someone from Hawaii, but the BOE has made their decision. We will do our best to work with her,” he said. “The biggest thing that we can hope for her is to have someone who is collaborative who wants to have a conversation with teachers in Hawaii to improve education. Teachers in Hawaii are often very frustrated with policies and decisions that are made without teachers’ input. Or teachers’ input is given and it’s ignored.”

The DOE said the new ESSA is intended to go into effect for the upcoming school year, just four months away. While there is still groundwork to cover, Rosenlee said HSTA and DOE will come to terms to benefit teachers and students.

“We’re going to be watching closely to see this new plan allows teachers and principals to move away from teaching to the test,” he said. “That’s what the DOE says they’re trying to do.”

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