Manatee County teachers brace for release of evaluation scores

eearl@bradenton.comDecember 3, 2013 

MANATEE -- The pressure is on for Manatee County teachers as the Florida Department of Education plans to release educator evaluation scores Tuesday.

Evaluations can determine teacher placement and performance pay, even though some areas in which educators are scored depend on tests their own students may not take.

Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction for the Manatee County School District, said the teacher evaluation assessment system needs improvement.

Evaluation scores are based on student state testing. But for kindergarten or American government teachers for high school seniors, who do not have students taking a state test, scores are based on a value-added model by their own school.

School value-added models "are tied to individuals who do not have an end-of-course exam or state test," Greene said. "It should be based on what you have done throughout the year and what students have achieved."

Greene said the state is working on adding other end-of-course assessments so each teacher has a personal assessment.

"I can understand why school (value-added model) scores would be tied to a media specialist or a guidance counselor because they work with all students," Greene said. "But it is challenging to look at that for a kindergarten teacher or high school teachers teaching 12th-graders who already moved beyond the FCAT. This is a statewide issue."

Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, said the district does not know what its assessment will be yet, but current school scores used in evaluations also stem from the FCAT.

"We are very concerned about tying the use of student data to teacher evaluations," Barber said. "One individual test doesn't really measure the work teachers and students do for an entire year. It needs to be evaluated before we lose people who are very good in the classroom to a flawed system."

Teachers will receive a rating on evaluations rather than a letter grade. The top rating is "highly effective." Other ratings include: effective, needs improvement, developing (for new teachers) and unsatisfactory.

Greene said evaluations show teachers and principals where they need to be "enhanced or corrected." Final evaluations are based on two parts: principal evaluations and the value-added model score.

Greene said principal evaluations are based on rubrics and what principals observe in the classroom, and the value-added model is based on a long and complex algorithm.

"It is based on a number of factors, but the bottom line is how much value was added to student performance for that particular year?" Greene said.

Statewide, final evaluations are released annually in the fall. The formula for the state score includes tests and student attendance.

Greene said evaluation scores are also based on growth. If students perform at a higher level than the year before, a teacher is adding value. If students perform at a lower level, the teacher is scored as not adding value. The evaluation looks at each student in a teacher's classroom, not just the average of the class as a whole.

Greene said there are no direct ties between school grades and teacher evaluations.

"If a school grade is a B, that does not mean all student needs have been met, and it does not mean teachers have percent (value-added model) scores," Greene said. "I can still have a low score if the school performed on a high level. It is based on each individual student."

Likewise, schools with low grades can still have teachers with high value-added model scores.

Student growth measures, or test scores, count as 40 percent of the overall evaluations. Next year, it will count as 50 percent.

Greene said she would like to continue to see teacher evaluations used as a tool of opening conversation.

"Principals being in classrooms and having that conversation with teachers and helping improve the art of teaching needs to remain," Greene said. "If great teaching is happening, learning is happening. Our whole goal is to graduate students who are college- or career-ready."

Greene said evaluations give direction on what support should be given each individual teacher.

"It helps principals with the normal decision-making they would make at the end of the year," Greene said. "It helps teachers be better at their craft. It is not a goal to use evaluations as a form of penalizing a teacher."

These decisions include moving teachers to another grade level or keeping them at the grade level they are now teaching.

Barber said hiring decisions are not connected to the evaluations. However, in the current statute, evaluations may determine performance pay.

While teacher evaluations are state-mandated, Barber said, procedures are negotiated locally in each district. In Manatee County, Barber said criteria include planning and classroom management.

Manatee County has been using the same teacher evaluation system for two years with the exception of a few minor changes such as the ability to store evaluation data on iPads.

"This evaluation system was implemented at a time when there was no money," Barber said. "Implementation was done quickly because of the requirements of the statue and with very few resources."

Evaluation scores are expected to be released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Education.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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