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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida Department of Education to release individual teacher VAM scores



Despite its opposition to doing so, the Florida Department of Education will release public school teachers' individual value-added evaluation scores today.

The department fought the release, along with the Florida Education Association, in court. But the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville won its lawsuit asking for the records.

Times-Union editor Frank Denton explained in a 2013 article that the public had a right to know this information about its teachers.

“Our making them available will allow parents and others to identify the many great teachers, as well as weaker ones,” Denton said. “Furthermore, given the checkered history of this state data, sunshine will allow the public to make their own evaluation of its quality.”

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart sent a message to superintendents and teachers Monday morning informing them of the department's decision to comply with the ruling.

"Despite being compelled to release this information after mounting our best legal efforts to protect the confidentiality of teachers’ information, we remain encouraged and feel that we have an opportunity in front of us," Stewart wrote.

"We are encouraged because through this information, we can celebrate the achievement of Florida educators – the teachers who have led students to success in their classrooms, as well as the programs that trained those teachers, the school and district leaders who supported them, and the families and communities who trusted them.

"We also feel we have an opportunity because when we look at the data, we can see where we should allocate our resources and attention to continue improving."

The FEA also sent out its talking points for union leaders to refer to when discussing the information. Among its points:

• The evaluation data on teachers that is about to be made public is meaningless, which is why FEA joined in to enforce the public records exemption and prevent it from being published. The numbers to be released are subject to misinterpretation. They have not been put in their proper context.

• FEA fully supports teacher accountability. But assessments of teachers, like assessments of students, must be valid, transparent and multi-faceted.  These value-added model calculations are none of these. We hope that The Florida Times-Union, and anyone else who publishes these numbers, makes it fully clear to its readers how little meaning these numbers have in determining the quality of an individual teacher.

The DOE does not intend to post the teacher information on its own website. It will provide the data to parties to the lawsuit, as well as those making public record requests for the details. Stewart said in her letter to teachers that she fully expected the information to be publicly reported by the media, and cautioned them to be prepared.

Similar data have been released in other places, most notably in Los Angeles, where the public dissemination of the teacher scores has been scorned. Critics in Florida, California and elsewhere contend the VAM system, only recently put into play in teacher evaluation, is unfair and unreliable.

Pasco assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said she would advise parents to do "nothing" with the information if they get it. Parents should be informed and involved in their children's education, she said, but they should not jump to conclusions based on a single aspect of teacher performance, particularly something as imperfect as value-added data.

"It is not a perfect science," Larson said. "It is one piece of information that needs to be looked at in comparison with everything else."

The information is due out later in the day.

[Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 12:36pm]


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