1. Opinion

Editorial: Teacher evaluation system flunks

Published Mar. 7, 2014

No wonder the Florida Department of Education fought to keep its teacher evaluation scores from last year a secret. They are too complicated and at odds with real-world observations. The state needs to call time out and revamp its accountability system. An evaluation tool that its defenders cannot explain and that has such a high margin of error needs more than mere tweaking.

The scores, under the so-called value-added model, or VAM, are derived from a complex formula that assigns numerical ratings to teachers' effectiveness based on students' standardized test results. The state released the individual teacher scores after a legal challenge from the Florida Times-Union. And while legislators have already amended the formula acknowledging some problems, the scores revealed a system so defective that the margin of error in some individual cases was beyond 50 percent. That means it is useless. Still, the state intends to base half of a teacher's performance evaluation, and future pay, on this absurdity.

As Tampa Bay Times staff writers Lisa Gartner and Cara Fitzpatrick reported, the state's flawed system rates some of the region's most honored teachers as low performers. Hillsborough County teacher of the year Patrick Boyko, a social studies teacher at Jefferson High School, scored a minus 10.23 percent, with a margin of error above 50 percent. Translation? His students scored 10 percent worse on the FCAT than typical children across the state even though the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test measures students in reading, writing, mathematics and science, but not social studies. Of course, it mattered little since the margin of error larger than Boyko's actual VAM score invalidated the whole process.

Even lawmakers had to acknowledge it wasn't fair to judge teachers based on students' performance in academic areas they do not teach. But how do you assign a numeral measurement to teachers who inspire and challenge children to read classic literature, explore scientific principles, create a piece of art, write a song, or run a 5K for the first time? In Florida, you would check to see how the kids did on their math FCAT. The system is so convoluted that one Hernando School District administrator correctly observed the highest rated teachers are likely the physical education staffers at A-rated schools.

Like Florida's controversial school grading system, these teacher evaluations, relying on the value-added model, are not credible and conflict with the school districts' own performance standards. House Speaker Will Weatherford has said he wants to restore trust and integrity to the school grades, but he also champions a value-added concept for rating teachers — a model, he acknowledges, that is so complex he can't explain it. Neither district administrators nor classroom teachers have confidence in this evaluation system. The Department of Education should toss its modeling and let districts devise an evaluation system for teachers that more accurately reflects the daily occurrences inside individual classrooms.


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