Legislators told of flaws in new teacher evaluations

Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 10:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 10:58 p.m.

Three state lawmakers got a chance to listen to Alachua County teachers talk about a controversial new state teacher evaluation system during a forum at Buchholz High School on Tuesday night.

About 100 people attended the event, where Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, and Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, listened to six teachers speak out against an appraisal system that evaluates teachers based on students' FCAT performance.

Bernadette Sill, kindergarten teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary, said it was unfair to evaluate teachers of non-FCAT grades based on other students' scores.

"It would be the same as saying you were being evaluated on legislation that you had no chance to affect," she said, speaking to the three legislators.

Florida's school districts were required by state law to use what is called the value-added model in teacher evaluations. VAM scores factor in FCAT scores and are meant to indicate how much value or knowledge a teacher added to a student during the course of a year.

This year, a VAM score was 40 percent of a teacher's appraisal, the principal evaluation was 40 percent and a peer critique of a lesson devised by a group of teachers was 20 percent.

Teachers were rated highly effective, effective, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

Even after Alachua County's evaluations were revised so that 99.5 percent of teachers received a rating of highly effective or effective, the model remains controversial because evaluations will be used to determine pay raises and employment in upcoming school years.

Janine Plavac, director of the Academy of Health Professions at Gainesville High School, who has a high percentage of students receive certifications and perform well on national tests related to their respective career and technical fields, said she was surprised by her evaluation.

"I was just an effective teacher using this flawed VAM model," she said.

A former high school teacher of the year, Plavac said her VAM score was based on FCAT scores of 21 ninth-grade students she did not instruct in reading or math.

O'Toole, chair of the House Education Committee, acknowledged that the appraisal system has flaws.

"Well-intentioned as it may have been, it's obvious there is a problem," she said.

She said she was glad to hear teachers talk about how not to do the evaluations, and she planned to find better options to take to her fellow lawmakers.

Watson suggested that the Alachua County school district may need more independence.

"I think we need to look at creative ways to have local autonomy," he said.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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