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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Garbage in, Garbage out: Florida's teacher evaluation system

From the Times Union's editorial board

Garbage in, garbage out, the saying goes about computer programs. So it is with a flawed evaluation system for Florida’s teachers.

Accountability is needed, no debate there. The effectiveness of the teacher is the most important factor in education.
But make evaluations credible. If Florida’s new evaluation system is as incomplete, unreliable and unfair as it is being portrayed, then it will damage public education.

Isolating and measuring teacher performance is subject to all kinds of variables.

Enter a new value added system that is being introduced into the public schools. It’s a key part of Florida’s award of a federal Race to the Top grant.

As described by the Florida Education Association, it is likely to do much harm.


It could penalize good teachers unnecessarily, drive good teachers from struggling schools and even drive teachers out of public education.

According to a news release from Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, there are major flaws. For instance, students may be inaccurately assigned to a teacher or students may be missing.

Outstanding teachers — teachers of the year, in fact — have been told they need to improve based on faulty or deceptive measurements.

Even the much-maligned Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test isn’t given to the vast majority of students in Florida.
In many cases there aren’t end-of-course exams available. So teachers may not be assessed on the performance of their own students. That’s just wrong.

Or a teacher may be assigned a score based on tests given to students in other subjects. That’s absurd.

Or a teacher’s evaluation may be based on schoolwide test scores. And that’s inadequate.

The value added model itself is being questioned. Quoting a RAND report, such estimates “will often be too imprecise to support some of the desired inferences.”


Nikolai Vitti, Duval County’s new superintendent, told Times-Union reporter Topher Sanders that the evaluation system still has bugs that need to be fixed. He’s not convinced it’s an accurate representation of teacher effectiveness.

If this flawed system is put into effect, the result could be demoralizing, an incentive for good teachers to get out. It would put teachers under more needless stress.

A total of 50 percent of the evaluation of teachers under the new model will be based on this flawed data.
The system clearly is not ready to be used for high-stakes reasons, such as firing teachers or determining pay. At the start, it ought to be used to help spotlight those few bad teachers, then gradually phased in as it earns credibility and respect.

The system needs to be accurate enough that teachers themselves ought to buy into it. The concerns being raised appear valid.

There’s a saying in medicine: First do no harm. That applies to public education, too.


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