Teacher evaluations changes advance in Legislature


In this Sept. 11, 2012 file photo, Carly Sewell, teacher of the STEM lab for fifth-grade magnet class students at Stephen Foster Elementary School in Gainesville, instructs her class.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.

Efforts to revise the way Florida public school teachers are evaluated took a big step forward when a key legislative committee unanimously approved proposed changes.

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In this Sept. 11, 2012 file photo, Carly Sewell, teacher of the STEM lab for fifth-grade magnet class students at Stephen Foster Elementary School in Gainesville, instructs her class.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun

The Florida Senate Committee on Education last week approved Senate Bill 980, which "says that we are going to link teacher evaluations to the students that they actually teach," Sen. Anitere Flores said at the March 18 committee meeting.

"We just want to make sure that (evaluations are) done in a fair process — that's what this bill does," she said.

Herschel Lyons, deputy superintendent for Alachua County Public Schools, said legislators are headed in the right direction.

"It's wonderful that they have taken these steps," he said. "Teachers welcome accountability, but we want to make sure it's the students that they teach."

The measure has several more steps to go, including a vote in the full Senate, before the changes would become law.

The next vote will be scheduled in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said Allison Aubuchon, deputy communications director for the Foundation for Florida's Future, an education policy nonprofit organization founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Aubuchon said the House version passed its first committee, K-12 Subcommittee, Wednesday morning.

Teachers are currently evaluated based on three factors: an evaluation by a principal, which counts for 40 percent; a lesson study, which counts for 20 percent; and the student growth model, which counts for 40 percent.

The student growth model, also known as the value-added model, uses student test scores and is intended to determine whether a teacher added any value or knowledge to a student throughout the school year.

Before a student takes the FCAT, the state predicts the student's score based on his or her past FCAT scores.

"If a student meets or goes above, then the teacher added value," Lyons said. "If the student did not, then the teacher did not add value and will receive no points."

The Alachua County School District uses FCAT reading scores as its criteria, said local teachers union President Karen McCann.

Without the changes proposed in SB 980, the student growth portion of the appraisals for all teachers in the district will be based on those scores.

"It makes no sense whatsoever," she said. "Imagine if you're a PE teacher being held accountable for how students did on FCAT reading."

For most teachers in Alachua County, their evaluations are based on students they never taught, and by the 2014-15 school year, the evaluations will be tied to teacher pay schedules, McCann said.

"Seventy-five percent of our teachers in Alachua County are being evaluated on students who they don't teach at all or who they did teach, but not for what they're being tested on," she said. "Senate Bill 736 (which set up the current criteria) created a monster."

Bill Warren, legislative director for the Foundation for Florida's Future, echoed McCann's concerns and voiced the foundation's support of SB 980.

"It narrows (teachers') evaluations to only those students they teach," he said in a phone interview. "To hold a teacher accountable to a student he or she may not be teaching is not accurate."

Irby Elementary Teacher of the Year Kim Cook said legislators' initial decision to evaluate teachers based on students' growth in other classes is "shameful."

"It shows how little legislators know," the first-grade teacher said. "It wasn't thought through to begin with."

Cook, who in December took to Facebook to show her displeasure with the state's evaluation model, said she welcomes the idea of people looking at student growth in her classroom, but she worries about how it will work.

Lyons said under the proposed bill, school districts would be responsible for developing tests for courses that are not tested by the FCAT. He said this process would require a lot of time and money.

"Funding is already inadequate without having to develop tests for over 300 to 400 subjects," he said.

Another concern would be eliminating inconsistencies in the difficulty of the tests across the counties, Lyons said.

"No one is talking about making sure everyone across the state is on the same level," he said. "There is a flaw with developing a test for Alachua County when another district is developing a test that is not as rigorous and the test in Alachua is rigorous."

Although Lyons said he was happy to see legislators moving in the right direction, he said he does not believe the changes specified in SB 980 will make the evaluation process more effective.

"It would mean creating more tests for the purpose of evaluating teachers," he said, "and we're in the business of evaluating students."

Cook agreed.

"Where's the funding going to come from to make these hundreds and hundreds of tests?" she asked. "There are so many other things that could be done to help students besides testing them constantly."

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