Floridians already can't trust the state's public school grading system after years of arbitrary changes by the Legislature that produced meaningless results. Now it's clear they can't believe the teacher evaluation scheme either for its absurdly optimistic assessment of Florida's teachers. What Republican lawmakers promised two years ago would be the final chapter in building a public education accountability system is actually more akin to a Garrison Keillor monologue: Florida, where (nearly) all teachers are above average.
That's particularly true in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. As the Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday, preliminary state results show that in 2012-13, those three school districts didn't have a single bad teacher. Not one. Nor, apparently, was there a single rotten administrator. Hillsborough County's results were only slightly more believable. There, about one out of every 100 teachers was deemed "unsatisfactory." Statewide, there was just one bad apple out of every 535 teachers. Nobody's hiring record is that good.
The teacher ratings don't come close to reflecting reality. Consider Lacoochee Elementary in northeast Pasco, where 100 percent of the evaluated faculty were deemed "effective" or "highly effective." Yet in April, superintendent Kurt Browning ordered all teachers and administrators there to reapply to keep their jobs after three consecutive D grades at the school.
From the outset, school districts and education advocates warned that the teacher evaluation system lawmakers pushed through and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law was highly flawed. Districts warned they would have too little time or money to do it properly. The results were shortcuts — such as basing a teacher's rating on the standardized test scores of students she may never have taught — that were almost comical. Statewide, only 3.5 percent of teachers were not ranked as "highly effective" or "effective" in 2011-12.
Not that the 2012-13 results released Tuesday are any more credible after a few tweaks to the formula. Last school year just 2.1 percent of teachers statewide were deemed "needs improvement," "developing" or "unsatisfactory." Everyone else was "effective" or "highly effective."
The goal of Florida's accountability push has been to make it easy for parents and the public to realistically assess how their local school is doing. But Tallahassee's continued proclivity to rush school accountability efforts for political gain versus smart investment and nuanced policy has resulted in worthless measurements that are too often unfair, unreliable and unbelievable. The latest teacher evaluation scores are more evidence of the disconnect. In all of Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties there must be one teacher who is performing poorly.
Accountability is good, but this system holds virtually no one accountable. Florida should scrap it and start over.