Pinellas school officials consider new ways to grade teachers

Published Feb. 21, 2013

LARGO — Pinellas County is considering a new system of evaluating teachers that would minimize the impact of a controversial new measure known as the value-added model, or VAM score.

Under the proposal, the student performance factor that makes up half of most teachers' evaluations would be measured by five different assessments:

• Tests, likely every week, to measure day-to-day instruction

• End-of-unit tests, likely every four to six weeks

• Student surveys

• End-of-course assessments

• VAM scores

Superintendent Michael Grego emphasized at a school board workshop Thursday that nothing is set in stone. Pinellas is considering running this proposal through Learning Sciences International, an organization also looking to work with Orange County. If Pinellas moves forward, the pilot study would begin at a sampling of elementary, middle and high schools this fall.

The value-added model is a state formula that tries to measure teaching quality based on students' Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores. But it's been heavily criticized by teachers, administrators and local and state officials who doubt that VAM truly measures what it claims to. For instance, some A-rated schools have received poorer VAM scores than lower-graded schools.

Many teachers are frustrated that they receive schoolwide VAM scores that sometimes have nothing to do with the children in their classrooms. Not all students and subjects are tested on FCAT.

"You know one of our frustrations right now is that VAM, for many of them, is not within their control to influence," said Lisa Grant, the director of professional development for Pinellas.

Kim Black, the president of the Pinellas teachers union, said she had many questions but was excited about the possibility of moving toward multiple measures of student growth.

"Right now teachers feel that so much is out of their control. It's developing a high level of frustration and burnout," Black said.

The hope is that teachers would get "real-time" feedback on their instruction and be able to make changes right away, rather than simply getting a VAM score after the school year has ended.

School officials said it was too soon to estimate the cost of the proposed changes, but believed they would be covered by Race to the Top funding. Grant said the system would not increase the amount of testing put upon children, because teachers are already giving out the assessments on the schedule described in the plan. However, teachers would need to be using the same tests, so there are some details to work out.

Grego assured the school board that the changes would be legal under Florida's testing requirements, because the state already allows districts to use measures in conjunction with VAM.

"We didn't have any other measures, so we had to rely on the VAM," Grego said.

Lisa Gartner can be reached at You can also follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).