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Newly released numbers underline flaws in Florida's teacher rating system

No teacher in Pinellas County public schools received a poor rating last year. Not one. None were deemed "unsatisfactory" on their evaluations. There were none in Pasco, and there were none in Hernando. You could find 138 in Hillsborough, about 1 percent of its teachers.

Across the state, out of 163,986 evaluated teachers, 306 received a poor rating, according to preliminary results released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Education.

State officials cautioned that the numbers did not include 13.7 percent of classroom teachers nor the Indian River school district. Updated results are expected in January, with a final report coming in March. Even then, county-to-county comparisons aren't possible because each school district developed its own evaluation system.

Under Pasco's measurement, 4.7 percent of county educators were rated "highly effective" and 93.6 percent were "effective" — the two highest of four broad categories.

In contrast, 30.7 percent of Pinellas instructors received the top rating, and 63.9 percent were dubbed effective.

Florida's lawmakers have revamped the teacher evaluation system in an effort to end the days when nearly every teacher in the state earned top marks while thousands of students struggled. But with 98 percent of teachers statewide still in the top two categories, the new system hasn't done away with that issue.

It also continues to face questions that have lingered since its inception in 2011-12. Some teachers complain of being rated based on students they never taught, while others question the accuracy of the evaluations.

Even prominent state officials have raised concerns. Earlier this year, Sen. President Don Gaetz questioned why a D or an F school could still boast a roster of top-rated teachers.

That disparity is "a great question for the local school district for how these two things line up," Kathy Hebda, the chief of staff for the state education department, said Tuesday.

She noted that the formulas for school grades and teacher evaluations are different. The grading formula primarily measures how well students performed in one year of testing, with some accounting for learning growth. Teacher evaluations, meanwhile, are based on a complex formula that looks at learning gains over several years.

The disparity also could be because of staff changes during the year, Hebda said. "Or it could be something else."

In many instances, there was a correlation between school grades and teacher evaluations, with top-performing schools employing a higher percentage of top-rated teachers. Higher-rated schools often draw more experienced teachers and have less turnover.

At Alafia Elementary, a B-rated school in suburban Valrico, 81.3 percent of the teachers were rated highly effective. At F-rated Maximo Elementary in the Midtown neighborhood of St. Petersburg, 1.9 percent of teachers received the same mark. Still, most teachers at Maximo received an "effective" rating.

Several districts, including Pinellas and Pasco, already have moved away from the evaluation systems that generated the numbers released Tuesday.

Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning said he was not overly concerned with the breakdown of teachers in each category.

"I don't want to artificially inflate numbers," Browning said. "I want to make sure that we truly have this percentage of highly effective teachers, and this percentage of effective teachers."

Browning said Pasco's new model, to be used next year, will be more closely tied to standards and focused on how teachers grow and improve. The district's new "reset" will "better represent the strengths of our teachers" in the coming years, he said.

Pinellas tweaked its original evaluation model for this school year so that more teachers would be evaluated on data from their own students.

"This has a long way to go," superintendent Mike Grego said. The district is testing "more of a pure model" at five schools before a full roll-out next fall.

In Hernando, where 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better, school improvement director Eric Williams said the high scores were by design. Williams said the district does not want to adversely affect teachers and their livelihoods until there is a better, more reliable system.

"We don't want to do that until we have valid metrics in place," he said. "Until we get to that point, I don't think we're going to see much of a difference in the final evaluation results."

The Hillsborough County school district, which got a year's head start on the process through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, showed numbers similar to those posted statewide. More than 95 percent were rated effective or highly effective.

District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said, "We're comfortable with those numbers because we've been doing this for a while, and we know what we're doing."

Times staff writers Jeffrey S. Solochek, Marlene Sokol and Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com.

Newly released numbers underline flaws in Florida's teacher rating system 12/03/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 11:12pm]
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