Thursday, January 18, 2018
Education

Pasco schools not equipped for new teacher evaluation system

While the legal battle is under way over a controversial 2011 state law that bases teacher evaluations and pay on student test scores, the Pasco school district is looking at what it would take to implement the law.

One of the key issues is adopting student exams in each subject that would be tied to teacher evaluations. On that front, officials say, the Pasco school district is far from ready for the 2015-16 state deadline.

"Pasco County has over 300 courses that need an assessment to be developed under the mandate of SB 736 without adequate time, money, buy-in, capacity/expertise, technical infrastructure to insure quality of test development, test security, administration, scoring, analysis (and) reporting," assistant superintendent for student achievement Amelia Van Name Larson wrote in a recent email to superintendent Kurt Browning.

She was responding to a query from Patricia Levesque, executive director of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, as to whether districts would support a legislative delay to allow for more time to create and adopt such tests. Pasco was among a handful of districts, including Duval, Broward, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough, to hear from Levesque.

Van Name Larson noted that several Florida-approved courses do not have standards or descriptions that lend themselves to writing valid tests. Moreover, she said, Pasco and many other school districts do not have employees with the necessary expertise to develop such tests. Nor do they have the funding to provide the training employees would need.

"There is a definite lack of financial resources to develop valid and reliable tests, create multiple test forms, pilot items and set cut scores for each high-stakes test," Van Name Larson wrote.

Lawyers for the Florida Education Association argued in a Tallahassee court this week that the 2011 law should be overturned. The law links teacher evaluations to students' test results, which will then be used to determine salary increases and employment decisions.

The FEA argued that teacher compensation is subject to collective bargaining and that the new law required school boards to unilaterally set up a new salary schedule.

The Leon County circuit judge who heard the challenge has not indicated when he might rule.

In the meantime, districts are proceeding under the new evaluation system.

So far, most have used FCAT results to rate teacher effectiveness, imposing schoolwide results for those who don't teach FCAT-related courses.

The model has been criticized as unfair and statistically unreliable.

Lawmakers have said they would be open to tweaking the system, or postponing full implementation, though probably not doing away with it altogether, unless the court says otherwise.

So far, two bills (HB 197, HB 225) have been filed to revise the use of test results in teacher evaluations.

This report contains information from the Sun-Sentinel.

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