Florida teacher evaluation tool is a model for objections

6:03 AM, Feb 25, 2014   |    comments
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(News-press.com) - The Florida Department of Education on Monday released data that is supposed to help measure a teacher's role in student progress over the course of a school year.

However, the numbers were met with immediate criticism from the classroom to the capital: teachers objected, administrators objected and state leaders objected.

"There is a lot of stress out there and a lot of concern about how the data is going to be used, how the data is going to be displayed and how it's going to be misunderstood," said Greg Adkins, Lee County's assistant superintendent for operations. "Two similar scores can mean two totally different things."

The numbers are part of a new multifaceted teacher evaluation system being introduced in Florida. The "Value-Added Model" uses student test scores to help determine learning gains, and looks at unique characteristics of each child in a classroom. VAM data then will be combined with empirical evidence that principals gather during classroom observations.

Kathy Hebda, the department of education's chief of staff, said VAM constitutes a portion of teacher evaluations, so "looking at this information in isolation can lead to misunderstandings about a teacher's overall performance." The state is not posting VAM data on its website, but is releasing files upon request after being sued by the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

Numerical scores extend nine decimal places. Higher numbers aren't necessarily better than lower numbers, though, or vice versa.

"I think this is going to create as much confusion as anything," said Lee Superintendent Nancy Graham. "Teachers are freaking out that this raw number is going to be thrown out there, and people are going to make huge assumptions about it."

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford, who met last week with some Southwest Florida teachers, cautioned that teacher scores were based solely upon student test scores, and in some cases, teachers were ranked using students or subjects they didn't teach.

"Once again the state of Florida puts test scores above everything else in public education and once again it provides false data that misleads more than it informs," Ford said. "When will the DOE stop being beholden to flawed data and when will it start listening to the teachers, education staff professionals, administrators and parents of Florida?"

"John Q. Public will look at a VAM score and say that a teacher is a good teacher or a bad teacher," added Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County. "We fear that parents will call schools and make requests on who they want to teach their children."

Flawed as they might be, value-added ratings will comprise 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation for 2014-15. Salaries will be tied to those evaluations, but area districts and unions have yet to negotiate a financial breakdown.

"Before we start putting people's livelihoods at stake, we need to fix this," Castellano said.

Unions and school districts have called for delays in implementation to sort out the fine print.

Joe Camputaro, a kindergarten teacher at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts in Lehigh Acres, served on a state committee that reviewed VAM formulas. It's not a perfect indicator of performance, he said, but Camputaro already scrutinized his numbers to note students didn't perform as well in math as they did in reading. Armed with that information, Camputaro intends to seek help from his colleagues to enhance instruction in math.

While high-stakes testing has been heavily criticized, VAM essentially is a high-stakes performance evaluation.

"This data represents how students performed on a standardized exam on one particular day of school," Camputaro said. "There are 180 days in the school year."

In Florida, only a teacher's most recent evaluation is exempt from disclosure, and that now includes VAM data. Crissy Stout, a technology specialist working from Lee's central office, worries parents will try to research scores from their children's teachers, only seeing a number that isn't in context or just a slice of an overall evaluation.

"Even if it's positive and shining, part of you says 'If I was in the private sector, this would still be private,'" Stout said.

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