Friday, February 23, 2018
Education

Pasco leaders seek more time, clarity on education mandates

LAND O'LAKES — Fivay High School social studies teacher Eric Johnson approached the lectern, laptop in hand, to begin his comments.

Moments earlier, the Pasco School Board had recognized Johnson not once, but twice, for his outstanding teaching. So it seemed appropriate, he said, to take three minutes to criticize the new teacher evaluation system that did not rate him as "highly effective."

"I am," Johnson said, "a strong supporter of the system."

But it needs alignment, he continued, so that the district does not have 95 percent of all classroom instructors deemed "effective" while almost none are viewed as better or worse.

"The evaluation system is not doing a good job," Johnson intoned, asserting that many "incredible" district teachers go unrecognized for their efforts. "If I am not at least reaching the bar and I can't see the bar, I have a feeling the bar is not real."

He called for improvements as soon as possible.

Johnson's call echoed that of teachers around Florida, who have lamented the state's push for districts to adopt and implement new evaluation methods before they were ready. Many school district leaders share that concern about not just the evaluations, but also about the myriad changes to standards, testing and related systems as they hurtle toward full implementation without what they consider enough time, money or preparation.

"We want to make sure we implement the initiatives at a high level of excellence," Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning said, repeating comments that he recently made to the Florida Board of Education. "Some of the things we have done up to this point have been rushed."

He referred to the evaluations, as well as the fast arriving deadlines to put Common Core math and reading instructional guidelines, end-of-course exams and a national testing program called PARCC into place. School districts also face quick turnarounds to move to digital instructional materials and online assessments.

Browning traveled to Tallahassee on Thursday to explain his concerns to state House and Senate education committee staff members, and to ask their help in easing the load.

"They wanted a fresh viewpoint and opinions from someone that was non-education," said Browning, whose background had been in elections prior to winning the Pasco school district seat.

He asked that the PARCC tests, for instance, be delayed by at least two years so they can be validated properly.

State Sen. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, said he empathizes with the concerns. As chairman of the Senate Education Policy Committee, Legg said one of his top priorities will be to look for ways to smooth the way for the many conversions and adoptions that school districts face.

"We have all these large planes in the air, and we have one runway in 2014," Legg said. "We want to make sure we implement them in a correct time table. Our committee is going to be looking at the time table."

He did not have any preference as to which items might get pushed back first, saying suggestions are welcome.

But Legg did open the door to ideas such as moving back full adoption of the new teacher evaluation system, as well as possibly changing the details of the system. He also stressed that the Senate, at least, has no intention of piling on more new changes, but rather looking at what is working and what is not, and making alignments.

Incoming education commissioner Tony Bennett said that Gov. Rick Scott has asked him to look closely at the state's implementation of teacher evaluations and the Common Core standards, to ensure Florida does both right. He suggested that looking at the alignment of all the moving parts, as Legg stated, will be key.

"No one did as much in three or four years as Indiana did," said Bennett, who previously served as Indiana's school superintendent. "One of the benefits we had because we did all of this so quickly is we had to pay attention to … how a voucher program aligned with our school accountability philosophies. How our educator effectiveness aligned with our school accountability philosophies. … The most important thing we have to do is make sure when we pursue these reforms, that we are very careful and very intentional about aligning the reforms to each other so we don't create disconnects."

The Legislature continues its committee meetings in mid-January. Its 2013 session runs from March 5 through May 3.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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