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Monday, March 26, 2012

CAST system further hurts teacher morale

You could change Duval for Martin County and read the same story. -cpg

From the, by Eve Samples

Never in Missi Campbell's 27 years as a teacher has she seen morale sink this low.

It has nothing to do with recurring spats between the Martin County School Board and superintendent, so don't jump to that conclusion.

This malaise stems from something board members and Superintendent Nancy Kline actually agree on: the rigid new teacher evaluations that state lawmakers have thrust upon public schools.

"The new evaluation process is completely overwhelming the education system in Martin County," Campbell, a kindergarten teacher at Crystal Lake Elementary, said at last week's school board meeting.

Martin County educators are scrambling to meet an April 13 deadline for evaluating teachers, but they're using a new method that many don't feel sufficiently trained in.

Campbell has her formal evaluation in two weeks, but she's only been trained in one of four state-mandated "domains" that she needs to know. Meanwhile, she's been trying to keep up with the onslaught of paperwork required by the new evaluations.

"Real teaching is going by the wayside," Campbell said. "We should currently be preparing for FCAT with creative and innovative strategies. However, we're so concerned and overstressed with the new tool that our children are suffering."

The evaluations are required under the constitutionally questionable Senate Bill 736 — the so-called Student Success Act — that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a year ago.

In addition to overhauling evaluations, the law ends automatic pay raises for teachers with seniority, requires one-year contracts for newly hired teachers and will phase in a merit pay system.

The Florida Education Association sued to block the law in September, claiming it violates teachers' rights to collective bargaining. As the lawsuit is pending, Florida's 67 school districts have no choice but to comply with the law.

To meet the new evaluation requirements, Martin County paid $48,000 for a software program called iObservation and spent at least that much on training, said Assistant Superintendent Frank Raffone.

The school district asked to have the system phased in over three years, but the state shot down that request. Raffone acknowledged the challenges in rolling out the new evaluations on short order.

"It not only breeds frustration for teachers, but it breeds frustration for administrators who have to do the evaluation," Raffone said.

The new evaluation system is based on the work of education researcher Robert Marzano, and it measures classroom performance using four "domains" and 62 "elements."

The basic principles aren't the problem, said Pam Kessler, a third-grade teacher at Bessey Creek Elementary and president of the Martin County Education Association.

The problem is that not all teachers have been trained in them — and it's hardly intuitive stuff. One of Marzano's "elements" calls for "Organizing students to interact with new knowledge."

"As a veteran teacher, I'm looking at it and thinking I don't know what that means," said Kessler, who has been teaching for 28 years.

Yet by 2014, these evaluations will weigh heavily on teacher pay and retention.

Per the new law, teachers will be given one of four ratings: "highly effective," "effective," "needs improvement/developing" and "unsatisfactory."

Districts will not be allowed to rehire those rated "unsatisfactory" for two consecutive years within a three-year period, or those rated "needs improvement" for three consecutive years.

Senate Bill 736 is based on a sound idea: rewarding teachers who are doing the best job in the classroom.

But its execution is proving cumbersome and potentially damaging.

"We want to do what's best for our students," Kessler said. "It's not a lack of willingness to perform here."

Raffone said school districts had similar trouble when the FCAT was launched. The state eventually made changes and it became easier to work with. He's confident the evaluations will get easier over time, too.

"It may not happen this year. It may not happen next year," Raffone said. "But I think over time it will happen."

The question is, how many good teachers will be driven away while we wait?

Eve Samples is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects her opinion. For more on Martin County topics, follow her blog at Contact her at 772-221-4217 or


  1. What really slays me about the CAST system is that it is primarily set down as an unattainable goal.

    I believe some administrator even said the words "No one will get "Highly Effective" in all areas."

    When we review the complexity and arduous nature of just the paperwork and real logistical nature of the data handling that needs to be done, everyone in the room realized that this is more than just an ideal, it isn't really possible, unless of course you have a staff of 10 or 12 people at your disposal to make sure all of your systems are integrated with all of your data, etc., etc..

    There are 100 possible points.

    I received "Effective" in all areas except for two, in which I received "Highly-Effective"~~the GOLD STANDARD!

    I thought, okay, I did OKAY!


    Then I look at my total point score, and I suddenly felt like a flunky----67.


    There's something that really stinks about that metric.

    It's sort of like if we start measuring our genitals in feet, instead of inches...imagine how inadequate you'll feel THEN.

    Of course, I'm kidding. I have never measured my genitals in feet, OR in inches.

    Yards, maybe. Ha. Now I know why the doctor said "Cough LIGHTLY!"

    At any rate, I feel relatively certain that the eggheads who formed committee to create this system never once took into account the psychological effect on teachers when they see that numerical score out of 100 possible.

    And I know a teacher who is clearly a better teacher than I, have the unfortunate luck to be observed by a different person, get a score considerably lower than mine.

    This is a master teacher with 30+ years and a super-strong head for everything education, and a fearless and rigorous ability to approach and solve any problem.

    Imagine his dismay, after all of his life's work, to be going out with what is essentially a grade of "F".

    It is mind-boggling to imagine that this was put together by anyone who really gives a rats-ass about what teachers think and feel.

  2. Jeff, I am always looking for contributors if you ever want to post...

  3. hello,
    I was wondering are the two scores are added or averaged and what is a passing score?
    Do you get extra points for special students?
    I also heard that pricipals are scoring based on their idea of what points are available from the students and shaving points from their side so the question of retention is still under their thumbs.