Fla. teachers score well in new state eval system

Most Florida teachers score well in new evaluation system, but results marred by glitches

MIAMI (AP) -- Nearly 97 percent of Florida teachers were rated as "effective" or "highly effective" under a controversial new evaluation system released by state officials Wednesday, but within hours they acknowledged there were problems with the results.

The scores varied widely among school districts, leaving critics to questions their validity.

There were also concerns about the accuracy of the data in the value-added model, or VAM, which is derived from student test scores. Hillsborough County was listed as having about 23,000 teachers, even though only 13,000 teachers were evaluated.

"The numbers appear to be questionable so we're having a hard time coming to any conclusions based on the data," said Hillsborough County school district spokesman Steve Hegarty.

Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cynthia Sucher later said in an email that Hillsborough staffers notified the agency their report contained duplicate records. The department then reviewed all records and found duplicate reporting in some other districts, as well, and expects to post an updated report on Thursday, Sucher said.

"This is clearly a flawed process that needs much tweaking and revamping before teachers and parents can trust in the validity of the Value Added Model," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union. "Florida teachers are not afraid of accountability - we welcome it. But it is essential that everyone believes in the evaluation system and that it accurately reflects what we accomplish in the classroom."

Each school district was allowed to determine its own scoring system based on curriculum and students' learning and performance growth. That led to wide variations in scores across the state.

Broward County rated nearly 92 percent of teachers as "effective" and about seven percent as "highly effective", whereas Flagler County's figures were almost the reverse. Hillsborough had 42 percent as "highly effective" and 55 percent deemed "effective", while Alachua County scored 61 percent as "effective" and nearly 15 percent as needing improvement.

Several large districts, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, had not yet reported their evaluations to the state.

State officials said they expected variations in the data in the first year and will run tests to see how the figures compare with each other.

"I think it is a valid tool," Kathy Hebda, the state's deputy K-12 chancellor for educator quality.

"It's designed for everyone to begin together and improve each year over time."

Only about 2 percent of teachers in the state were marked as "needs improvement" and less than 0.5 percent were deemed "unsatisfactory." About 1 percent of teachers fell under a category for teachers in their first three years and considered still developing.

In the past, teachers were only rated as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" with about 99 percent scoring favorably, said Hebda.

Teachers will not be penalized for a low score the first year, but will be dinged if they score poorly two years in a row.

But some teachers say the new system is flawed and the figures are already outdated. The data is based on the 2011-2012 school year and teachers said it's not a useful tool for correcting poor performance because it's being released nearly halfway through another school year.

Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said some teachers are being evaluated on scores from students they never taught.

Margaret Goodwin, a third-grade teacher at St. Petersburg's Westgate Elementary School, said all kindergarten through third-grade teachers at her school received the same school-wide VAM rating of 11.27 out of 50 possible points based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores of fourth- and fifth- graders because their own pupils don't take the FCAT.

"We want accountability. We want teachers to be evaluated fairly and we want to be able to do what's best for students ... and the system they're putting in place isn't doing that," said McCall.

Ford, the FEA president, unsuccessfully appealed to Gov. Rick Scott to suspend the evaluation system in a letter last month. The union now plans to appeal to the Legislature to revise the law it passed last year requiring VAM-based evaluations. Those evaluations will be used to determine which teachers should be retained and which ones should get merit pay when the system is fully effective in three years.

The association has also filed a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality.