In the eyes of her peers, Central High School health science teacher Bethann Brooks is exceptional.
From her administrator’s perspective, she’s highly effective. Within the Hernando School District, she’s this year's Teacher of the Year.
As for the state? Not as glowing.
Brooks earned an “effective” grade under Florida’s new “value-added” teacher evaluation system that takes into account student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to determine her mark.
While she said she was initially graded as “highly effective” at the school level, her mark dropped when the FCAT scores came in.
As a career technical teacher who teaches mostly seniors, she said she wasn’t graded on the scores of her students but rather the school’s grade as a whole.
“Which is sad,” she said. “It’s not so much grading me at that point. A lot of the students I have are seniors. They are not even taking the FCAT.”
“I think it would be more fair if it were your own students,” she said. “You have responsibility to prepare them for the test.”
That’s a frequent criticism of the new “value-added model,” or VAM.
The plan has come under fire, because many teachers are evaluated based on the performance of students who aren’t even in their classrooms. In such cases, many say they are being rated on students who they have no interaction or contact with, and therefore no involvement in their learning.
In the new system, teachers can be classified as “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement,” “unsatisfactory” or “developing” - with the final term reserved for teachers with three or fewer years of experience.
In Hernando, 16.8 percent of teachers were graded as “highly effective” while 81.9 percent were marked as “effective.” Only 1.3 percent of the district teachers were ranked as “needing improvement” or “developing.” None were “unsatisfactory.”
Brooks will eventually be graded on her own students when end-of-course exams are implemented.
But those aren’t around yet.
“We do not have an EOC for her subject area,” said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. “The state, in its infinite wisdom, wants to force everyone into the same square before we are even ready.”
If Brooks was graded on her own students, Vitalo said “we’re greatly confident she would have scored ‘highly effective’ in there.”
Vitalo said the current model is not the best.
“When you’re trying to use something before all of the components are built, of course it’s not going to fly,” he said. “I don’t think the Wright brothers figured they could have a jet before they even started flying.”