DOE Defends Botched Rollout Of Teacher Evaluations

Dec 7, 2012

The most recent hit to the Florida Department of Education involves the much-anticipated release of new teacher evaluations. The department released them and retracted them on the same day citing problems with duplicate teachers being reported on the rolls. Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says problem came from the way districts reported salary information.

“If a teacher is paid from two or three different funding sources, they would actually be reported more than once. Obviously for teacher evaluations, they should be reported only once," she told a Senate Education Committee.

In the run-up to the evaluation rollout, the state’s largest teachers union had raised concerns with what it says are problems in the system.  For 3rd grade teacher Margaret Goodwin, the state’s new evaluation system didn’t work out in her favor:

“My assigned score was 11.27, its only receiving 11.27 points out of 50.”

Goodwin teaches at St. Petersburg’s Westgate Elementary School and she says she’s always received positive evaluations.  But under the new system, student performance now plays a big role into her score.

“My evaluation part that comes from principal and assistant principal was effective and highly effective. The value-added model negated all that and put my overall evaluation at a “needs improvement," Goodwin said.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association says the formula for measuring that progress, called the “value-added model” is clunky and confusing. It also says teachers like Goodwin, who are outside of subject areas regularly monitored by the state, are subject to being graded by the progress of students they don’t even teach. The union says that’s unfair.

Despite the concerns, the preliminary evaluation report shows 96 percent of the state’s teachers were rated as “effective” and “highly effective”. But there are still gaps in the data. It’s not final and results for at least five districts aren’t on the report at all.

Other districts, such as Franklin County in the Panhandle saw the majority of its teachers falling into the “unsatisfactory” and “needs improvement” range. But Leon County, home to Florida’s Capital City of Tallahassee got REALLY good news.

“We felt we took very deliberate steps with our teachers, our teachers union and I think we came out with a fairly good product," said Leon County testing director Scotty Crowe.

All of the district’s teachers were rated as “effective” and “highly effective”. Crowe credits that success with the district being able to work closely with its local union.

But when it came to crafting the new evaluation system in the first place, Crowe says districts didn’t really have that much leeway. While they still control the part of the evaluation that deals with things like classroom observation and teacher interaction, it’s up to the state to calculate the value-added part of the system, which it calls a prediction of how well it thinks students should be performing versus how well they actually do.  

 “There’s a trust factor here that the state is applying that data correctly. That’s not done at the district level that’s done at the state level, the VAM, the Value-Added Model," Crowe said.

Both before and after the problematic rollout of the evaluation reports, that “trust” is on shaky ground. Testifying before a panel of lawmakers, interim education commissioner Pam Stewart admitted there are problems with the evaluation system, but said those issues shouldn’t stop the state from moving forward with the new system.

“I think this is a painful year. I think anytime you implement something this large for the first time, there are growing pains. I think the '12-'13 year will be much more telling on how we do as we move forward.”

Florida lawmakers required the state to measure student progress in teacher evaluations as a condition of a $700 million federal education grant.  The state received the “Race to the Top” money in 2010 to help improve student graduation rates and get more students ready for college and careers. In the next few years, the new evaluation system will be used to decide whether teachers get pay raises and whether they keep their jobs.