Miami-Dade Schools

Miami-Dade Schools considers training on conducting evaluations

Having recently finalized teacher evaluations for the first time under a new statewide system, Miami-Dade school district officials have turned their focus on the controversial system itself. And if they could assign it a ranking, it might be “needs improvement.”

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and his staff in the last few days have questioned the application of the state’s formula that calculates teachers’ effectiveness. They have also presented a proposal to improve administrators’ training on classroom observations.

“We feel we owe it to our teachers to have a reliable, coherent system,” said Assistant Superintendent Enid Weisman.

Teacher observations and effectiveness as determined by the state’s “value-added model” are the two components that in Florida now make up an educator’s overall ranking, which by 2014 will be tied to their job security and pay. Top-flight teachers are rated “highly effective,” while the worst are “unsatisfactory.”

District administrators say both components need work. And on Wednesday, the School Board could approve negotiations with a vendor to create a new system worth up to $2.3 million to train and certify school administrators on how to conduct classroom observations.

The district already provides observation training, but wants to create a federally funded professional development program in which teachers and principals can view clips 24 hours a day of Miami-Dade teachers engaged in exemplary classroom practices. The idea, supported by both the local school administrator’s association and teacher’s union, is to provide better consistency in observation-based evaluations and to give teachers a point of reference.

“It was a game-changer when the state said your employment and salary is going to be tied to how you’re evaluated,” Weisman said. “We listened long and hard, and what the union said constantly … is we need better and more clarity to know exactly what we should be doing.”

Chris Kirchner, an English and literature teacher at Coral Reef Senior High, said it’s hard to have faith in observation scores when one administrator in one school on one day might score your observation differently than another.

“Teachers believe that administrators are highly subjective when they score,” she said. “The entire system lacks validity.”

As for the mathematical component of evaluations, that remains an issue with the district and elsewhere. On Tuesday, seven teachers from outside South Florida filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s application of the value-added formula. The model aims to measure students’ learning growth and attribute that growth to specific teachers. But for educators of non-core subjects, the state applies their school’s FCAT reading scores to their evaluations.

In Miami-Dade, Carvalho has said the formula is “mathematically sound,” but that assigning scores to teachers based on students they’ve never taught is unfair.

 ” he said. “Let’s fix this and have it right for next year.”

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