Responding to an outcry from teachers over a controversial new rating system, Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego says it's time to revisit the program and possibly ask state lawmakers for changes.
Pinellas teachers are still reeling from the new performance evaluations they began receiving this month, which in many cases gave them lower performance scores for hard-to-understand reasons.
Grego on Wednesday sent a letter to all teachers acknowledging the widespread frustration, and saying, "It is clear that we need to revisit the teacher appraisal plan that was submitted by our district to the state over a year ago."
He also said that if it proves necessary, "We should work together with our legislators to adjust the statute."
Grego was responding to a teacher evaluation system created by the Florida Legislature that went into effect this year. It was partly designed to weed out bad teachers. It also was designed to rate teachers partly on how well their students perform in the classroom.
Many teachers are dismayed that in many cases, their evaluations are partly based on school averages, instead of their own students' scores.
Although he has called for a review of the system, Grego stopped short of saying changes are definitely needed. He is not backing away from the idea that teachers should be evaluated based on their students' academic performance.
Overall, he said, "This is another step hopefully in a very positive reform effort for education. We're not there yet, and we need to get there."
But Grego said the system, which was developed with input from district officials and the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, does need to get a second look.
Grego said the main complaint he has heard from educators is that it's unfair to be evaluated on the performance of students outside their own classrooms. He said the goal should be "to more closely align the teachers' evaluation" to their own students' performance.
He did not have a firm time frame for conducting this review, but it is starting right away. As part of the process, he will meet with teachers union officials on Friday.
Asked about Grego's letter, Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association said, "I feel good that he and I are kind of on the same page that there's a problem, and the School Board is right there with us."
School Board Chairwoman Robin Wikle said, "I am thrilled and I applaud his effort to reach out to our instructional staff." She added that, "We do have some awesome teachers out there that have been hit hard with their evaluations."
Although Grego sent his letter to Pinellas teachers on Wednesday night, School Board members commented on the new system during a meeting the night before. Several expressed concern for how the new system was affecting morale.
Board member Terry Krassner told teachers to "hang in there" and not lose focus on students.
Board member Linda Lerner was more forceful, calling the system invalid and unreliable. She said no one could figure out the mathematical formula used to create the so-called value-added scores. She also said it was ridiculous that so many teachers are being evaluated based on test scores of students they didn't teach. Art teachers, for instance, are graded based on FCAT scores — even though they don't teach a subject tested on the FCAT.
Because of that, "We're really not finding which teachers need to improve," she said.
Lerner said she voted for the evaluation plan because it was required by state law. But, "It was irresponsible of the Legislature and the state to put us in that place," she said.
During that meeting, Grego pledged to "examine every aspect" of the evaluation system. But he said that in many ways, the district is limited by the law's requirements — and a state-imposed time frame for implementation.
"Sometimes our state is moving so fast we're unable to pilot or test," he said.