TAMPA — Thousands of Hillsborough County schoolteachers were notified Tuesday morning that, much like their students, they are not all above average.
For the first time, teachers received scores evaluating on how well they helped students boost test scores — a groundbreaking shift to determine which teachers are truly masters of their craft.
It is also a major milestone in the district's unprecedented partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a national model to judge teacher quality.
"Our teachers now have more information available to them than ever before to help their students achieve at a high level," said Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia. "This is the result of a lot of hard work with some of the nation's top experts and with our own experts — our teachers."
The scores, combined with feedback and observations from principals and peers, make up the new evaluation that will eventually determine how teachers will be paid.
The data released Tuesday shows the new reality on how teachers stack up against each other: Fewer at the top and more in the middle.
Under the 100 point rating system, about 5.5 percent of the district's 11,753 teachers scored in the top quarter of the scale, a 75 or above. Half of the district's teachers scored at least a 61.5. And about one percent were below 36. Only one teacher scored higher than a 94.
Nearly 90 percent of all teachers scored in the top half of the scale with 50 points or more.
Under the old model, nearly all teachers were deemed satisfactory or better, and some 30 percent received the top score.
Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, a lawyer for the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said it's not entirely clear what will become of teachers who receive the lowest scores.
"We're talking with the district about that right now," she said. Roughly 100 teachers fell into that category when the principal and peer evaluations were released, she said. At first blush, she said, it appears a comparable number will remain in that category.
District officials have emphasized that this year's scores represent almost a practice run. They plan to refine the system and gather three full years of data before they use scores to determine pay.
Teachers have six days to ask questions and contest the scores if they feel there is a mistake. Once the review period passes, the district will use the scores to determine who gets a $2,241 bonus under the state's Merit Award Program, said district spokesman Stephen Hegarty.
"Teachers are asking good questions," said David Steele, Gates project director for the district.
The St. Petersburg Times contacted more than two dozen teachers and none would comment.
Hillsborough, the eighth largest district in the nation, won a $100-million grant in 2009 from the Gates foundation to spend seven years improving teacher quality through more effective evaluations and training.
Since then, the state Legislature has called on all school districts to move toward performance-based rewards and away from seniority systems, placing Hillsborough at the forefront of the state's teacher accountability movement.
Inside schools, teachers have spent time preparing for the results of Gates.
Westchase Elementary School teachers met in groups to discuss a book by Charlotte Danielson, the Princeton-based educational consultant who designed the evaluation rubric.
They also observed and evaluated each other, said assistant principal Nancy Mooy. "The best teachers are the hardest on themselves," she said.
She said because of the preparation, "this will not be scary, but something that will make us better teachers."
At DeSoto Elementary School in east Tampa, principal Gilda Garcia said the release of scores seemed to go smoothly.
"Only one teacher came to see me, and she was very positive about it," she said. "I think we've gotten a lot of information, and that certainly has helped."
Times staff writer Connie Humburg contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.