Latest News

Florida releases first report on test-driven teacher evaluations

Three in every four teachers were effective in Florida classrooms last year, but 2 percent need improvement, according to a state report released Wednesday.

The report offered the first glimpse of how the state’s new controversial evaluation system graded teachers in 2011-12. The system combines a test score-driven, statistical formula with traditional principal observations.

But the report is preliminary and far from conclusive in judging teacher performance -- or how well the new system is working.

In fact, there was at least one mistake in the report -- some teachers in Hillsborough County were counted twice -- that prompted administrators at the state Department of Education to take the report off its website to double-check information. Cynthia Sucher, the DOE’s communications director, said Hillsborough officials alerted the state that the number of teachers listed was greater than the actual number of teachers employed. Sucher said the department “reviewed all records and found duplicate reporting in some other district reports, as well.” She couldn’t say how many or where, but that an updated report was expected to be available Thursday.

“We feel comfortable that we got it now. But we don’t want to take a chance, so we’re going through it with a fine-tooth comb,” she said.

The incident echoes what happened over the summer, when the state released school grades, but later had to correct more than 200 because state administrators forgot to include part of the grade formula.

Wednesday’s report on teacher evaluations did not include information on about a quarter of Florida teachers. It is missing the majority of Miami-Dade’s teachers and all of Palm Beach County’s.

Other districts’ results vary widely. Broward had nearly 92 percent of teachers rated effective, compared to 100 percent of teachers in Monroe; 55 percent in Hillsborough; and 16 percent in Leon.

In Broward, there are concerns that top teachers who instruct high-performing students are graded “needs improvement.”

Kathy Hebda, the state’s deputy chancellor for educator quality, said a final report for 2011-12 will be available in January. She attributed differences among districts to local flexibility in how student performance data was included in the system. State and district administrators showed an “abundance of caution” in the first roll-out, she said.

“Any time you do something this big, you need to do it very carefully and very thoughtfully and that’s what they’ve done,” Hebda said. “I think it is a valid instrument.”

Others disagree. Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said in a statement the incomplete report is further proof that the evaluation tool is “still not ready for prime time.”

Under the old system, there were only two grades for teachers: satisfactory and unsatisfactory. And the state received reports that less than 1 percent of Florida teachers were unsatisfactory.

The new test score-driven evaluations -- dubbed “value-added” -- were mandated by the Florida Legislature last year and combine traditional observations with student scores and other data. By the 2014-15 school year, the new evaluations will be tied to tenure and salary.

Statewide, 22 percent of classroom teachers were ranked highly effective; 75 percent effective; about 2 percent were told they need improvement; and less than 1 percent -- or 493 teachers -- were deemed “unsatisfactory.”

The report for Broward’s classroom teachers:

The ratings for the majority of Miami-Dade’s classroom teachers -- more than 20,000 -- were not available. Hebda said the state had not received all the needed information from Miami-Dade. Of the few evaluated, 72 Miami-Dade instructors got “highly effective;” 93 got “effective;” one received “needs improvement;” two beginning teachers were “developing;” and none were unsatisfactory.

Enid Weisman, chief human capital officer at the Miami-Dade school district, said all employees had been evaluated, but the district had not sent the data to the state because administrators and the United Teachers of Dade have to negotiate the cut-off scores for the value-added rankings. “Our feeling is we’d rather it be right than done,” Weisman said, adding that data from the state also arrived late.

Some teachers still waiting for their final evaluation are frustrated with the new system. Miami Beach High teacher Nadia Zananiri said that without her final evaluation for 2011-12, it’s hard to know what to change in the classroom this year, which is nearly half over.

“This is the most cumbersome, ineffective and waste of an evaluation system that could possibly be designed,” she said. “This is not an improvement over the old system. We’re throwing away millions on an evaluation system that is not sustainable and is going to be thrown out in the courts.”

Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association who served on the state committee that helped devised the model, said the initial results gave good news -- and indications there’s room to improve. “Now we are literally reaching into a classroom and going kid by kid and saying what is their performance and measuring it,” she said.

While some of the feared unintended consequences -- like penalizing teachers at poor schools -- are not occurring, others are.

Dozens of high-performing Broward teachers who instruct top-performing kids were rated “needs improvement,” Maxwell said. The new system rewards teachers for student growth, and top-performing students don’t have as much room to improve.

“The model has a ceiling effect,” Maxwell said. “That’s the sort of stuff that needs to be adjusted. The intention is not to penalize the best and brightest.”

Noel Giannone, a middle school social studies teacher at Cypress Run Education Center in Pompano Beach, said he was rated an “effective” teacher – but he still thinks the system is unfair.

His frustration isn’t just with the reliance on test scores. He also thinks the classroom observations are inherently subjective, since different principals might favor different teaching techniques and a brief walk-through could be misleading.

Giannone said he favored bringing in evaluators not employed by the district to observe teachers. That way, a principal who personally doesn’t get along with a teacher won’t bring that bias into the evaluation process. When it comes to using student test scores to grade teachers, Giannone said his school exclusively serves students with behavioral problems, and many of them are testing at three or four years below grade level. “I’m supposed to be graded on what these guys get when I’m already so far behind,” Giannone said.

Broward Teachers Union President Sharon Glickman said there are “many flaws and inconsistencies” in the evaluation system, like the fact only 7 percent of Broward teachers earned “highly effective.”

“There should be more,” Glickman said. “It’s the inconsistencies that are unfair to the teachers, and mislead the parents as well.”

Glickman said the union is preparing a class-action grievance that will challenge the evaluation system.