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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas school board pans new teacher evaluations



The Pinellas County School Board is scheduled to vote next week on a complicated, controversial new way of sorting good teachers from bad. And while several members indicated today they’ll be voting for it - it’s essentially state mandated - they also made it clear they’ll be holding their noses.

“It’s going to be hard for people to buy in, yet they don’t have a choice,” board chair Carol Cook told The Gradebook after a workshop discussion on the new evaluation system. “And neither do we.”

“I'm going to have to vote for it,” said board member Linda Lerner. "But it still ticks me off."

At issue are new teacher evaluations set in motion by SB 736, the historic state law passed last spring that overhauls the teaching profession in Florida. The law mandates that student performance be the primary factor in gauging whether a teacher is effective. It says evaluations will dictate pay and job security.

The state is requiring the use of complex statistical models — commonly called “value added models” — to account for factors such as poverty and to tease out how much a teacher contributed to a student’s gains. While some teacher quality experts find the models promising, many of them also worry that they’re not yet accurate enough for high-stakes decisions about compensation and employment.

Another snag: Most teachers do not teach classes that are tied to standardized tests, such as the FCAT, which are necessary for the statistical comparisons. Until such tests are created, districts must find something to fill the vacuum. 

For many teachers in Pinellas this year, the placeholder will be this: school-wide reading scores, after the results have been crunched through the value added models.

(One likely exception, floated at Tuesday’s workshop, is 11th and 12th grade math teachers. Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union, proposed that those teachers be rated on school-wide gains in math instead. Board members were receptive.)

“They’re trying to do something that can’t be done,” said board member Janet Clark, who shook her head often during a presentation on the new evaluations.

“It’s not real practical,” said board member Terry Krassner.

The board approved an initial draft of the evaluation system and sent it to the state Department of Education in June. It must submit a revised version to DOE by Sept. 30.

In the 15-school pilot it rolled out last year, the district used school grades for the student performance piece for some non-FCAT teachers. The district considered using a school grade component in the system now going district wide, but dropped that ideas a few days ago.

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 8:20pm]


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