CLEARWATER, Florida -- The long awaited teacher evaluations are out and the scores look good; 95 percent of Florida teachers are rated as "effective."
The new evaluation system is a requirement for Florida to participate in President Obama's Race to the Top program. It's also part of the state's new Student Success Act, which ties student performance to teacher pay.
Under the old evaluation system, teachers used to be rated either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, and the evaluation was done by the principal. Under the new evaluation system, teachers are scored in three areas: their professional development, the principal's evaluation, and at least 40 percent on student test scores.
Controversial? Yes. Fair? Some teachers say yes.
"I feel like I have more control over my own evaluation rather than a quick snapshot when an administrator comes into the room," says Erin Fitzgerald, a 9th and 10th grade English teacher at Clearwater High School.
Fitzgerald says her evaluation shows she's an "Effective" teacher, which is the second highest category.
Fitzgerald says, "It shows me I have room for improvement. I want to strive to be the highest. The report tells me what I need to do to get 'Highly Effective.'"
The new evaluation system rates teachers "Highly Effective," "Effective," "Needs Improvement," or "Unsatisfactory." Teachers who've been on the job between one to three years can be rated as "Needs Development."
Lisa Grant, Pinellas School District's director of Professional Development, says, "It is a new world, very different. I don't think we have it right yet. I think the goal is now to create a system that helps teachers improve their practice."
In Pinellas, more than 5 percent of the teachers rated Highly Effective, 73 percent Effective. More than 17 percent need improvement, making up a third of the teachers in this category statewide. Department of Education officials say the wide results are because each district determines what's considered an effective teacher for its schools.
Kathy Hebda with the Department of Education says, "I think it's a valid instrument. You are talking about decisions districts make locally on their curriculum based on student course work. They worked to make this system what it should be, representative of what they want to have happen in their schools."
Teacher evaluation results will officially count in 2015 when a teacher's score will impact his or her pay and retention. A teacher who receives several consecutive unsatisfactory ratings will lose their job.
Fitzgerald says, "I think it will put a fire underneath me every day to do the best I can."
State Education officials warn these first year results are a baseline to work from. State and district leaders are already looking at how to fine tune this evaluation system. The Pinellas School Board will discuss the teacher evaluations at next week's workshop.
Parents will have to wait a year to learn their child's teacher's rating. Under state law, that information is confidential for up to a year. Teachers are not the only ones evaluated under the new system; school administrators and non-instructional personnel are also evaluated.