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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature want teachers to fail
From the Orlando Sentinel, by Leslie Postal and Dave Weber
Seminole Countyschoolsare among the highest performing in the state. Yet hundreds of Seminole teachers could end up with poor job reviews next year underFlorida'sproposed system for calculating teacher evaluations.
An analysis by Seminole officials suggests that teachers across Florida could find good evaluations — and job security — harder to come by once the state finalizes its system for crunching student test score data to judge teacher quality.
That's fine with many state leaders who have questioned how some teachers could earn good yearly reviews while their students struggle to meet Florida's academic standards.
But many local educators are worried about the new evaluation system, and Seminole administrators were alarmed when they ran their data showing how their teachers would score under the new state yardstick.
"This has the potential to dismantle public education," said Seminole Superintendent Walt Griffin. "This is not fair to our teachers."
Seminole's data shows the number of teachers falling into the two lowest evaluation categories of "needs improvement" and "unsatisfactory" would jump from fewer than 1 in 100 this year to more than 1 in 7 next year.
Officials worry hundreds of the district's 4,300 teachers could lose their jobs within several years.
That is based on a new standard for calculating test-score data that the Florida Department of Education is now hammering out, as demanded by the state's 2011 merit pay law.
Kathy Hebda, a deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, said in an email that she could not comment on Seminole's findings as she had not seen them. But she said the department, which is holding a hearing on its proposal Thursday in Orlando, welcomed such feedback.
"We are so grateful that districts have been examining their data so closely," she said, adding such reviews are "key to continuous improvement of Florida's education evaluation systems."
The merit pay law, which aims to improve student learning, overhauls how teachers are to be evaluated, paid and promoted and mandates that teachers with a few years of poor evaluations should be fired.
Seminole educators say they fear good teachers will unfairly lose their jobs.
"This evaluation system is inaccurate and is not really capturing the truth about teachers," said Marie Causey, a statistics teacher at Oviedo High.
School principals and other campus-based administrators — even those at A and B rated campuses — would also struggle, with fewer earning good reviews and more getting poor ones, Seminole officials said.
The education department said it had not run a statewide analysis of the impact of its new proposal, though many expected its standards would be tougher those most districts used this past year.
Lake County schools have no firm data "but we see the same trend that Seminole County is reporting," wrote Laurie Marshall, executive director for human resources and employee relations, in an email.
The Orange County school district said it has not run any data using the state's new proposal.
At issue is the rule the department is finalizing for its "value-added model," dubbed VAM, which aims to judge how much a teacher contributed to a student's growth on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The system seeks to determine a teacher's impact while taking into account factors outside their control, such as a student's disability or absentee rate.
The state calculated teacher VAM data for last school year, but allowed school districts to determine how to interpret it. The result: More than 96 percent of teachers did well statewide.
That led to complaints from supporters of the merit pay law who expected a change from the old teacher-evaluation system, when reviews based on administrator observations typically led to 99 percent of teachers getting good marks.
Sally Bradshaw, a member of the State Board of Education, said earlier this month that she was upset that most teachers earned "effective" or better ratings in 2012 even at F-rated schools or in districts where many students struggled on FCAT reading.
"I think something is terribly wrong," she said.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett responded that the new value added standards, which are expected to point out more low performing teachers, would help answer her concerns.
The new standards are slated to be adopted by the State Board in June and would go into effect for the 2013-14 school year.
The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the merit pay law, which bases half of a teacher's evaluation on "student learning growth." An "unsatisfactory" on that automatically means the overall rating must be "unsatisfactory."
"We just think it's really, really not valid," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the statewide teachers union, who labels the state's plan "a ridiculous exercise."
The Seminole School Board is considering appeals to local state legislators, school board and superintendents' organizations and others in an attempt to stop implementation of the new evaluation rules.
"I have great concern about the science behind this," said Ron Pinnell, Seminole's human resources executive. "There are people's careers on the line."