New Superintendent Kishimoto to be judged on veracity of her words


Newly hired state Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto would do well to abandon standardized test scores as the primary public schools performance gauge held so dear by her predecessor.

Former Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi based her leadership on test scores, which is also one of the primary reasons principal and teacher morale fell so steeply under her reign.

When it came to this topic, Kishimoto talked a good talk. During comments to the Board of Education when she was one of two finalists for the job, she was quoted as saying, “The flexibility for teachers to be able to design assessments that are really meaningful at the classroom level is something I believe in thoroughly, and so how much assessment we do that is across the board versus school-based and classroom-based design by the teachers is a give and take, and is about making sure that we are not spending so much time assessing that we are distracting from the opportunity to be engaged hands-on in learning for kids.”

Kishimoto said, “It’s a conversation around how do you coach teachers around what those assessment results show. The strategy is really around that coaching. It’s not around saying that an assessment is a ‘gotcha’ around evaluation. I don’t believe in that. I think in any industry you go into, even outside of education, you find that it’s in that coaching, support of staff and your capacity that’s going to bring excellence in the outcomes.”

The new hire comes from districts in Connecticut and Arizona, where controversial standardized testing posed problems, particularly for Title I schools where poverty and homelessness worked against test performance. She knows what it is like to be judged on standardized test performance.

If Kishimoto truly embraces what she says she does, she may need to make this clear with the complex area superintendents and principals, many of whom have voiced frustration, confusion and concern over dictates from above. Some remain under the impression that their schools will be judged on how high their test scores are. So it is that a complex area superintendent blamed principals and rated them poorly. As the idiom goes, the blame flowed downhill to teachers for low test scores.

This is especially true on Maui, after principals were being rated poorly. Indeed, several teachers on Maui have reported that their principal suggested, based on their students’ low test scores, that they move on from teaching. This despite the specter of the Department of Education heading into another school year with more than 1,600 positions remaining vacant.

Changing the current DOE culture of fear and loathing to one that is not standardized test-driven and is truly collaborative may be no easy task. District personnel have for years endured top-down, authoritarian rule, and that has infected principals as well as teachers who live in fear of losing their jobs.

Kishimoto now must walk the walk. Many, many principals and teachers have looked askance when informed of yet another DOE initiative. She will be judged by the veracity of her words. Kishimoto told the BOE that she wanted Hawaii “to be known as an education system that ensures that everyone at every level has that buy-in, and has the opportunity to have the discussion and be part of the dialogue in this course.”

Hawaii’s large, unwieldy single district makes getting the superintendent’s “buy-in” a gargantuan undertaking. Time will tell if she is really ready and willing.

* Alan Isbell is president of the Maui Chapter, Hawaii State Teachers Association. He is a 4th-grade teacher at Wailuku Elementary School.