By Jac Versteeg, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida Legislators and Gov. Scott acted as if it would be easy to create the new system of teacher evaluations they ordered up in the so-called Student Success Act of 2011.
Hey, just have some of those bureaucrats in the Department of Education cobble together key guidelines. How difficult could it be?
Very, it turns out. Last week a Florida administrative law judge ruled the state DOE’s first stab at writing a rule to govern the evaluations “wholly invalid.” Judge John Van Laningham’s 57-page treatise on such arcane topics as “incorporation by reference” provides a dizzying introduction to the rules of writing rules. The judge, ruling in a case brought by an English teacher, a math teacher and the state teachers union, essentially says that the state’s checklist for evaluating teachers is so scattered across reference materials and Internet sites that school districts can’t tell what the heck is on it.
The judge notes that this matters a great deal because, under the Student Success Act, school districts have to fire teachers who get several poor evaluations.
Judge Van Laningham did not strike down or uphold the rule’s substance. The adoption method was so sloppy he never got that far. A separate, ongoing lawsuit seeks to strike down the whole evaluation process.
The state’s alleged goal is to create a “value-added” evaluation that looks at more than student scores on high-stakes tests, although those remain a key component. Principals and others observing teachers in the classroom are supposed to figure how what “value” the teacher adds. Palm Beach County already had said it would hold teachers harmless for the first year while it tries to better train the observers. The judge’s ruling should give teachers everywhere a similar reprieve.
Just as it did with the FCAT, the state is imposing an “accountability” system that isn’t proven. No state is operating a “value-added” evaluations system Florida can copy. Changes and reforms five years down the road won’t help the teachers ousted under early, flawed versions of the new evaluation system. For politicians this was easy. It will be very hard on teachers.