Race, poverty not factors in Fla. teacher ratings


Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 3:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 3:37 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Studies show students' race and socio-economic status have virtually no correlation with their teachers' performance evaluation scores, a top Florida education official told a legislative panel Thursday.

Teachers are being evaluated during the current school year for the first time using what's known as a value-added model. Half of each score must be based on how much a teacher's students have improved on reading and math tests from one year to the next.

A hotly debated 2011 law that created the evaluation system prohibits students' race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and gender from being considered in the value-added model, but it doesn't really matter, said Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality Kathy Hebda.

Hebda presented charts to the House K-12 Education Subcommittee that show almost zero correlation between teachers' evaluation scores and the percentages of their students who are poor, nonwhite, gifted, disabled or English language learners. Teachers similarly didn't get any advantage or disadvantage based on what grade levels they teach.

"Those things didn't seem to factor in," Hebda said. "You can't tell for a teacher's classroom by the way the value-added scores turned out whether she had zero percent students on free and reduced price lunch or 100 percent."

Not all subcommittee members were convinced.

"You can't deny the difference between a child who comes from a home where the parents are able to help that child with their learning, or if they provide tutoring or other enrichment activities, versus a child who goes home and doesn't know where they're going to stay that night," said Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland. "It's a factor that is out of the teacher's control."

Hebda said the model levels out those differences because it compares year-to-year test scores instead of using just the results from a single year.

The same Republican-sponsored law that mandated the evaluation system also calls for a performance pay system and ends tenure for teachers hired after July 1, 2011. It's being challenged in court by the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the findings Hebda cited vindicate the law.

"Those who say it can't be done need to get out of the way of those who are doing it," Baxley said.

Education officials, though, have acknowledged the new system has issues. In many cases teachers were evaluated on their entire school's average exam results rather than the performance of their own students because their subject or grade level isn't tested.

Preliminary results released last month show nearly 97 percent of teachers were rated "effective" or "highly effective." The rest were rated "developing," ''needs improvement" and "unsatisfactory."

The evaluations will be used in the performance pay plan scheduled to go into effect next year. School districts also will be able to fire teachers who get two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings or two in a three-year period. Also, teachers can be terminated for any combination of three needs improvement and unsatisfactory scores in as many years.

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