Hoping to create more clear and understandable evaluations for teachers, the Citrus County School Board unanimously agreed Tuesday to stop using the state value-added measure when rating educators' performance. Citrus is one of the first districts in Florida to take steps to end the use of the much maligned VAM, which teachers have called unfair and unreliable.
Florida lawmakers allowed school districts to take this step as part of HB 7069, the controversial law that included dozens of separate changes to education policy.
"This was one of the things we did hope would come out of the legislative session," said board member Thomas Kennedy. "We tried to jump on this as soon as we could. ... We really wanted our teachers to start the year knowing what the expectations are."
The district began discussing this switch in May, when it became clear that VAM might be on the chopping block. Lawmakers had heard many complaints from teachers who did not understand what the formula meant or how it worked.
By July, the staff had developed an alternative by which all teachers would be evaluated using the same criteria applied to those who did not instruct courses that include state tests. The model includes consideration of student gains, but unlike the state gives credit for children who maintain strong results even if they do not have a higher numerical score on their exams.
Research and accountability director Amy Crowell told the board that more than 20 employees reviewed the proposal, and the response was uniformly positive.
"Every bit of the feedback ... did recommend the use of the district model to replace VAM," she said.
Kennedy acknowledged that the district model does not necessarily give a better overview of teacher performance than VAM. But it is more straightforward and less confusing, he said, noting that a data analysis showed no teachers would get worse ratings for 2016-17 if the model were applied.
He added that the end of VAM is only the first step for Citrus.
"We will improve (the district model) as we go along," Kennedy said, adding that longer term he hopes lawmakers will end the connection of student test scores to teacher evaluations.
Tampa Bay area school districts are looking into the VAM issue but have not yet acted.