Four teachers at Pasco County’s Hudson Elementary School were involuntarily transferred out of their classrooms Friday, the victims of a state law that superintendent Kurt Browning has tried to fight since it took effect in 2017.
The law requires that schools with two consecutive D grades or one F not have a percentage higher than the district average of teachers with a “value added,” or VAM, state rating of unsatisfactory or needs improvement. In practice, the Department of Education has told district officials that means having no teachers with the low VAM at those schools at all.
VAM is a complicated mathematical formula that is supposed to show whether teachers got positive gains out of their students, after taking other items that influence growth out of the equation. It has been criticized since the state started using it.
Because the department does not deliver VAM scores to districts until after the school year has begun, the requirement has caused chaos at Hudson and other schools around the state that face the mandate.
Parent Mike Uhrig, whose daughter Victoria had two of the Hudson teachers, criticized the state for its delay in letting schools know which teachers are eligible to teach there. Insisting on changes at schools where performance is low makes sense, he said.
But waiting until bonds have formed, and lessons have begun, makes no sense at all, said Uhrig, who worried that his daughter would either be crammed into a classroom with too many other students while awaiting a new teacher, or get an unqualified substitute.
“This is just ridiculous. School has already started," he said. “They are setting them up to fail.”
Superintendent Kurt Browning has challenged the department’s implementation of the rule since its inception.
In 2017, he won a reprieve, and was allowed to keep the teachers with low scores at the school where they had been assigned, but in different classrooms. In 2018, he moved a few of the teachers, but got others mentoring to help them improve.
This year, Browning appealed to the department again. He noted that Hudson’s new principal kept the teachers even as much of the faculty turned over because they were good fits for the students.
Further, Browning said, the VAM results — which teachers have long called unfair and unreliable — are not even part of the district evaluation model. Lawmakers detached the two in 2017.
Still, the state wasn’t budging.
“They have told us up there as guidance that the state board has made it patently clear, it will not approve turnaround plans [if the schools have] teachers with low VAM,” Browning said. “Does that make it right? No. It’s very disruptive to be moving teachers after two weeks of school.”
The district has already reassigned the four teachers, one each to Connerton, Mittye P. Locke, Northwest and Calusa elementary schools. It also has advertised the vacancies at Hudson, including an offer of the state-touted bonus of up to $15,000 for teachers with highly-effective VAM scores to move to D and F rated Title I schools like Hudson.
The goal of the new incentive, education commissioner Richard Corcoran said, was “getting every student in front of a great teacher.”
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said he hoped to have the four Hudson teaching jobs filled by the end of next week.