Putting Education Reform To The Test

Teacher Evaluation Results: Effective or Needs Improvement?

Welcome to Florida, where all the teachers are above-average.

GeoBlogs / Flickr

Welcome to Florida, where all the teachers are above-average.

Why are we doing this again?

That’s a question people are asking around the state after seeing the second statewide batch of teacher evaluation data this week.

Nearly 98 percent of teachers earned ratings of “highly effective” or “effective.” And the percentage of teachers earning the top rating increased to one in three statewide from one in five teachers the prior year.

Some districts reported they didn’t have a single poor-performing teacher. And only one administrator in the entire state — of more than 6,200 rated total — earned an “unsatisfactory” rating.

“Nobody’s hiring record is that good,” The Tampa Bay Times wrote in an editorial. “The teacher ratings don’t come close to reflecting reality.”

The Bradenton Herald‘s editorial board said teacher ratings look great, until they’re compared to school grades.

“Across the state, 98 percent of teachers rank in the top two categories — a figure that should be reassuring,” they wrote. “Yet the high number of failing schools — despite all those “highly effective” teachers — continues to be troublesome.”

(Some caution on comparing teacher evaluations to school grades — they measure different things.)

The goal was to replace traditional evaluations, where just about every teacher earned at least a satisfactory rating because — the line of reasoning went — principals and administrators were unlikely to deliver hard truths to their colleagues.

So in 2011 Florida lawmakers required school districts to switch to what’s known as a value-added model. It’s a statistical formula that weighs 10 factors, such as class size, attendance and more, to predict how well a student should on the the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Teachers whose students beat the projected score earn a higher rating. If the students do worse than projected, the teachers earns a lower rating.

The formula-based evaluations frequently have large margins of error and teachers don’t understand how they can earn a top rating one year and a poor rating the next.

Right now, the results in most schools are based on FCAT reading and math scores while districts develop end-of-course exams for every subject. That means an award-winning science teacher might be evaluated based on test results of a subject she hadn’t taught.

Districts were allowed flexibility when designing their teacher evaluation systems, so comparing the ratings across district lines isn’t always an apples-to-apples comparison.

So why go through the cost and stress of new evaluations if we end up with the same Lake Wobegon-esque results?

Senate President Don Gaetz told the Florida Times-Union he isn’t ready to dump the system, even if it is currently flawed:

Gaetz said he recognizes that the system isn’t perfect, but he’s not willing to abandon the system because in some ways it still keeps score on how teachers are doing.

“Some people just don’t like scoreboards,” Gaetz said. “But if we wait until we have a perfect system, we won’t have any system. We’re not going to have an absolutely perfect evaluation system, but we ought to start with one that’s performance-based on the students you teach and from results that are valid and reliable.”


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