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Pinellas teacher evaluations to change under new proposal

LARGO — A new system proposed to evaluate the performance of Pinellas teachers and other school employees is an improvement but remains significantly flawed, school district officials said Tuesday.

Fewer teachers would be evaluated based on the performance of students they've never had in their classrooms, but many still would be evaluated based on subjects they don't teach.

The proposed overhaul, mandated by the Legislature, was presented to School Board members at a work session and would take effect this school year if the board approves it next week.

Lisa Grant, director of professional development for the district, admitted that there were issues with the proposal. "It's not a plan we love every detail of, but it's moving in the right direction," Grant told the board.

At the end of every school year, teachers receive a numerical score that translates to a rating of "ineffective," "developing/needs improvement," "effective" or "highly effective." For most Pinellas teachers, half of that score last year was based on the growth students showed on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Because thousands of school employees don't teach reading or math to the grades tested on the FCAT, they received evaluations based on students they didn't have or subjects they didn't teach.

Pinellas is running a pilot program at five schools to develop assessments specific to all its educators. But that won't be ready until the 2014-15 school year.

The proposal brought forward by Grant's team is a stopgap until then. The plan drastically reduces the number of teachers who are evaluated based on an aggregate of the FCAT scores of every child in their school.

For instance, students in the kindergarten through third grade would take pre- and post-tests on classroom lessons to determine how much a teacher had helped them — which is exactly what the evaluation score is trying to isolate.

Teachers in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes would be evaluated on those assessments. Biology teachers would get part of their rating from end-of-course exam scores.

But art, music and physical education teachers still would be evaluated based on reading and math FCAT scores. So would middle and high school science teachers.

"That's ridiculous," School Board member Peggy O'Shea said.

"We know it's not ideal," Grant said.

Linda Lerner, the longest-serving member of the board, told her colleagues to "be realistic." Legally required to evaluate their teachers off this type of data, they might be looking at the best solution for the time being.

The district also recommended adding one point to the evaluation scores of teachers at high-need schools, which Grant declined to identify Tuesday. A one-point boost might ease the fears of those going into more challenging schools, said superintendent Michael Grego, adding that many teachers were on the cusp between effectiveness ratings last year.

Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said it was hard to know whether the proposed changes would be an improvement. They rely on everything from unit tests to college-readiness exams.

"We're implementing these assessments for high-stakes reasons before we're able to determine if they're reliable and valid measures of what they're supposed to be measuring," Proud said. "They could determine whether an individual is employed and have (implications) for their pay."

Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.

Pinellas teacher evaluations to change under new proposal 08/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 12:58am]
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