Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Education

Questions abound as state releases teacher evaluation scores

Pasco County language arts teacher Valerie Smith learned early Monday that part of her 2013 job evaluation was being made public.

The information — a piece of data called a "value-added model" or VAM score — is so controversial and complicated that the Florida Department of Education fought in court to keep it secret, but ended up losing.

Now the state is emphasizing that the score was only one component used to evaluate public school teachers in Florida. "Looking at this information in isolation can lead to misunderstanding about an individual teacher's overall performance," said DOE chief of staff Kathy Hebda.

In an unusual alliance, the department joined the Florida Education Association in 2013 to fight the Florida Times-Union's public records request for the scores, which assign a numeric value to teachers' classroom effectiveness after taking into account external factors such as whether a student lives in poverty.

After losing in federal appeals court in November, the department decided to release the scores Monday for teachers throughout the state, including thousands in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.

Smith worried parents might make assumptions without understanding the complex — and frequently challenged — formula that generates the ratings.

"The intention may be for the good, to shed light on how our schools are really doing," she said. "But if the information is just put out there without really understanding the meaning, then what is the purpose of doing it other than to create chaos?"

The Times-Union, which published the numbers Monday, anticipated negative feedback, said Kurt Caywood, the paper's vice president of audience. Newspaper executives were well aware of similar efforts in New York and Los Angeles — and the reactions, which included the suicide of a teacher labeled one of L.A.'s worst.

But the public, Caywood said, had a right to see the details underlying Florida's teacher evaluations, which have been the subject of heated political debate and contested in court. "We felt like the best way to reach a conclusion as to whether it was valid and should be part of the evaluation process was to put it out in the open," he said.

The paper published several stories along with VAM databases as the DOE made the numbers available to other media outlets and school districts.

District and teacher union leaders were quick to render a verdict on the release.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho called the data a "questionable snapshot of performance." He also mentioned a study by the American Institutes for Research that questioned the use of reading scores in the value-added model.

Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning observed that the data did not include results for teachers in several grades, as well as in several subject areas.

The margin of error differs from school to school, and not all districts use the same definitions or place the same emphasis on VAM scores in their teacher evaluations, which also include factors such as classroom observations by administrators.

"The scores are meaningless," Hernando teachers union president Jo Ann Hartge said.

Maria Ferguson, executive director of the independent Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, predicted confusion would follow the release.

"Parents see these sorts of things and they freak out because they don't really understand what any of it means," Ferguson said. "When the data becomes public, the media and public don't have an opportunity to see or understand the nuance. … The interpretations can get out of hand."

Not all education advocacy groups are as concerned.

"Teachers are hired to help our kids learn," said StudentsFirst Florida spokesman Lane Wright. "It makes sense to hold them accountable to by using a student-growth measure to determine how much they grow."

State Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who sponsored the performance pay legislation in 2011, said it was premature to draw any conclusions from the data.

"We all need to sit back and let this play out," he said. "Once all of the data has been crunched, we can all sit down as stakeholders, and decide: Did it work? Was it good for students?"

Education commissioner Pam Stewart sent a letter to Florida teachers Monday morning attempting to reassure them. She said the release of the database was a chance to tell the public that it has little value by itself.

Smith, the Pasco teacher, said she understands why the news media would want to bring the numbers to light. "But to me, it doesn't serve a viable and useful use within the community if you're providing information that nobody can make sense of."

Staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this story.

Comments
Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the union for the county’s instructional staff, has announced its recommendations for School Board candidates ahead of next month’s election.The group made its decisions via a private forum, where about fi...
Published: 07/18/18
Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Lori Romano, fired from the Hernando County superintendent post for "ineffective leadership" a month ago, has snagged a job in the neighboring Pasco County school district.She won’t be nearly as high up the administrative ladder in her new role.Subje...
Published: 07/17/18
Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

LAND O’ LAKES — Chris Stowe has a storied past as an explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps.The retired master gunnery sergeant has mementos of his service — a field knife mounted to the lid of an explosives box, for instance — hanging promin...
Published: 07/17/18
Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Three trustees for Pasco-Hernando State College have been reappointed to their posts by Gov. Rick Scott, and a new member joined the college’s Foundation Board of Directors.The reappointments to the Board of Trustees are Alvaro Hernandez, Lee Maggard...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

DOVER — With the start of classes nearly three weeks away, Hillsborough County school resource officers are receiving extensive active shooter training Tuesday morning to prepare them in the event of another school tragedy.Members of the Hillsborough...
Published: 07/17/18
Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Chicago schoolteacher Kimberly Bermudez has always been the chatty type.So when she was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Florida to visit her parents last week, and her seatmate asked her what she did for a living, she told him about her first-grade...
Published: 07/17/18
In District 6, School Board candidates offer ideas on teacher pay, achievement gap and more

In District 6, School Board candidates offer ideas on teacher pay, achievement gap and more

In Pinellas County’s only School Board race without an incumbent, three longtime Pinellas residents — a retired City Council member and coach, a human resources manager and a special education teacher — will duke it out for the District 6 seat. All t...
Published: 07/17/18

New student address verification rules on tap for Pasco schools

Pasco County parents have demanded for more than two years that their school district make sure students are not lying about their addresses. They’ve done so in hopes it might alleviate the need to change attendance zones at crowded schools.They migh...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough headed for a new mark: 25,000 charter school students

Hillsborough headed for a new mark: 25,000 charter school students

TAMPA — Three more charter schools will join the Hillsborough County system this year, pushing the number of students in these tax-funded, but privately operated institutions to well over 10 percent of the enrollment.District officials predict that 2...
Published: 07/13/18
District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

A three-term incumbent, an educational specialist with a doctorate in school counseling and a teacher with 33 years of classroom experience are vying for the countywide District 3 seat on the Pinellas County School Board.All three have clear ideas on...
Published: 07/12/18