Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Florida’s Senate President Would Change Teacher Evaluations


Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President-Designate Don Gaetz.

Florida’s Senate President says the state’s teacher evaluation system is confusing and should be reworked so teacher ratings more closely match those of the schools they work in.

Senate President Don Gaetz, a former school board member and elected superintendent, says schools should no longer evaluate some teachers based on test scores of students they haven’t taught. Lawmakers should also fund a pay-for-performance requirement approved in 2011, he says.

“We passed that legislation and then we didn’t fund the pay-for-performance system,” Gaetz says. “It seems to me now, that what we need to do is make sure that we sand the rough edges off it, then we institutionalize it, then we help school districts implement it.”

For Gaetz, those rough edges include tying teacher ratings to school grades. If a school is earning a D or F grade on the state report card, it shouldn’t be full of teachers earning the state’s top two evaluations of “highly effective” or “effective.”

“We grade schools in Florida, and gosh, if you have a C or D school, and you’ve got 90 to 95 percent of teachers in that school rated as effective or highly effective, you’ve got some problems,” Gaetz says. “So, I think there needs to be a hardwired nexus between the performance of schools and whether or not the faculty of that school is deemed to be effective or highly effective or ineffective.”

We’ve written before about the differences between Florida’s school grading system and its teacher evaluations. Chiefly, schools generally earn a better grade the higher students score on the state standardized test.

Gaetz’ complaint centers on the value-added model, or VAM, which comprises between 40 percent and 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Value-added models are complex statistical formulas designed to strip away outside factors, such as class size or a student’s attendance, to isolate what effect the teacher had on the student’s learning as measured by test scores.

“That value-added model is hard to explain for teachers, it’s hard for parents to understand,” Gaetz says.

Teacher evaluations also include principal or peer observation, graded according to the school district’s chosen framework.

But as the Shankerblog’s Matthew Di Carlo argued, the school grades and teacher evaluations shouldn’t match up because they are measuring different things:

Florida’s schools grades are heavily driven by students’ absolute performance levels, while its teacher evaluation ratings are designed to be independent of those levels. Again, both are matters of degree, and there are other reasons to expect to find some level of concentration of “lower-performing” teachers in schools with lower absolute performance scores (e.g., recruitment/retention issues).

That said, Florida’s school and teacher rating systems are, by design, measuring different things. If anything, an extremely strong relationship between the grades and evaluation ratings might be seen as a red flag that the latter are biased. At the very least, validating one by assuming it must match up with the other is, to put it gently, inappropriate.

In a later post, Di Carlo notes there is a relationship between school grades and teacher evaluations anyway.

And for what it’s worth, the Florida Department of Education says their analysis of the first year of teacher evaluation data shows the formula is working exactly as it was intended.

Gaetz says teachers should be evaluated based on learning gains. The value-added model is intended to measure learning gains, but Gaetz prefers other measures.

One could be testing students at the beginning and end of the year to see how much they’ve learned. Gaetz also prefers measuring students against known benchmarks.

For instance, he says, reading and writing proficiency typically slows in 8th, 9th and 10th grades. Teachers whose students show gains during that time could earn a better rating.

And Gaetz would do away with school-wide VAM scores. Those calculate a VAM score for teachers in subjects, such as art or music which the state does not test. But the scores are based on school-wide FCAT results — often from students who never set foot in the teacher’s classroom.

“I think we ought to just be looking at the learning gains of students that teacher teaches in her or his classroom,” Gaetz says. “And I think the rest of the value-added model tends to be confusing and even sometimes a bit unfair.”


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