Florida’s teacher evaluation system isn’t based on evidence

From the Orlando Sentinel, By Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel

Florida’s push to use student test scores to judge teacher performance should be halted this year, with Gov. Rick Scott using his executive authority to put a stop to a faulty system, the state teachers union says.
The Florida Education Association this week sent a letter to Scott asking him to suspend the requirement that “value-added” test data, sometimes dubbed VAM, be used in teacher evaluations.
The union said the data are insufficient, possibly inaccurate and went to districts so late that evaluations for the 2011-12 school year are only now being sent to teachers — five months after the school year wrapped up.
“The deep concerns we have regarding the implementation of VAM’s complicated and unproven statistical formula and its impact on Florida’s teachers cannot be overstated,” wrote Andy Ford, the union president.
Ford could not be reached for additional comment. A Scott spokesman said the Governor’s Office was reviewing the union’s letter.
Florida’s new and controversial teacher merit-pay law requires that students’ academic growth, as measured by test-score data, be a significant part of teachers’ evaluations and eventually help determine their pay.
The state’s value-added model aims to analyze results from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in a way that determines an individual teacher’s impact on student growth. It is designed to take into account factors outside the instructor’s control, such as a student’s absentee rate, while judging the teacher’s influence on a child’s test results.
Teachers’ 2011-12 evaluations were the first to be done under the new system, which also includes a new way to observe and judge their classroom activities.
In Central Florida, most teachers have not yet received their final evaluations for last school year. But the Orange County school district said its value-added scores showed 95 percent of its teachers were “effective,” a desired, though not the top, rating in the new system.
The education association detailed five specific complaints about the data for the 2011-12 school year.
The law envisioned that tests other than FCAT would be used to evaluate teachers whose students do not take that series of standardized exams, given to students in grades three to 10. But this year, only FCAT math and reading data were used in the new value-added model.
That is insufficient when so many instructors — whether they teach kindergarten, music or high-school economics — aren’t covered by FCAT’s yearly math and reading exams, the letter said.
It also complained that the Florida Department of Education wasn’t able to get the data to school districts within 90 days after the close of the school year, as the law required.
And it said the department told the district it knew some data might be inaccurate because students might have been inaccurately tied to a particular teacher. Because “errors can damage a teacher’s career,” Ford wrote, the state shouldn’t proceed with using the data.
lpostal@tribune.com or 407-420-5273

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