BROOKSVILLE — More teachers in Hernando County were rated "effective" or better than anywhere else in the Tampa Bay area under Florida's new and controversial teacher evaluation system.
But don't expect educators to welcome the high marks with open arms.
Locally and statewide, educators are panning the new evaluation format as unfair, saying that in many cases it assesses teachers based on factors other than the students in their classrooms. They say some are rated based on students they have not taught because they teach courses that do not feed into the state testing system.
"I think teachers really want to be accounted to their actual students that they're actually teaching based on their actual assignment," said Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Joe Vitalo. "They don't want to be judged on someone else's work."
Some also have questioned the large disparities between schools — and districts.
Hernando High principal Leechele Booker said she hadn't heard any complaints about the process or the evaluations, despite none of her teachers being evaluated as "highly effective." The vast majority, 90, were ranked as "effective," with three evaluated as "needs improvement."
"With it being the first year, there is probably not a high percentage (of 'highly effective' teachers)," she said. "I can't imagine there's more than five at each school."
Then she saw the numbers for Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, where 85 teachers were rated "highly effective."
"That's almost their entire staff," she said.
That led her to a conclusion that many educators are reaching: The data is skewed.
"I was thinking five," she said. "When you see 100 in one school, 26 in another, it's definitely skewed."
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt agreed.
While Blavatt said he felt the evaluations were a "relatively good assessment of teacher performance," he did feel they showed a degree of subjectivity.
"I don't believe for a moment that a 'highly effective' teacher in one school … would necessarily be ranked as 'highly effective' at another school," he said.
Blavatt acknowledged there are some valid concerns with the system.
"We're certainly going to address them," he said.
The new system was developed partly because the previous evaluation format ranked more than 99 percent of Florida teachers as "satisfactory." Only a tiny fraction were not. In the new system, teachers can be classified as "highly effective," "effective," "needs improvement," "unsatisfactory" or "developing" — with the final term reserved for teachers with three or fewer years of experience.
State lawmakers imposed new evaluations two years ago, requiring that student test results account for up to half of the rating. Administrator observations make up the other half.
Nearly 99 percent of Hernando County's teachers were evaluated as "effective" or higher for the 2011-12 school year under the system, with 16.9 percent rated as "highly effective," according to data released last week by the Florida Department of Education.
Only 1.3 percent of the district teachers were ranked as "needing improvement" or "developing." None were "unsatisfactory."
Statewide, 21.9 percent of teachers were ranked "highly effective," while 74.6 percent were "effective."
In Hillsborough County, 41.5 percent of the classroom teachers were rated "highly effective," but only 5.3 percent of Pinellas teachers get that score, and 3.6 percent in Pasco.
One reason for the variation is that school districts across Florida tailor their own evaluations systems.
The numbers released Thursday by the Education Department were about the same as error-filled data posted Wednesday, then subsequently recalled because the information included many duplicate records for teachers.
In the initial release, the state reported just under 2,000 classroom teachers in Hernando — about 350 more than the actual number. Almost every school district reported duplications, some significant.
In Hernando, Challenger K-8 had 85 "highly effective" teachers, the largest number of any school in the district. Springstead High had 69. Four others had more than 10.
But several schools had none.
Hernando High, Westside Elementary, Deltona Elementary, Nature Coast Technical High and the Endeavor Academy had no teachers evaluated at the highest level.
Vitalo took issue with that.
"I know that there are highly effective teachers at those sites," he said. "The way the data is, it's not allowing it. We're not measuring our people correctly."
The battle over the new evaluations isn't likely to end anytime soon.
In the coming years, teachers receiving poor ratings over multiple consecutive years could lose their jobs. Teacher pay also will be tied to the scores.
"It's going to be a huge battle," Vitalo said, "when you start impacting people's careers and their right to raises."
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.