New school standards bring new ways to evaluate, pay teachers

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 4, 2014 

MANATEE -- A new set of education standards for the state of Florida will also bring new teacher evaluations and a new pay scale. The changes were being questioned by Manatee County educators and parents Tuesday at a community engagement forum.

Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instructional services for the Manatee County School District, said the teacher evaluation system that will continue to be used was installed by the state three years ago.

Starting July 1, however, teacher evaluations and performance pay will be tied to a new state assessment not yet chosen.

The current assessments are Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 and final exams.

Greene said teachers can choose to stay on the FCAT pay scale or switch to the new performance pay schedule. Once they switch, the decision is final.

New teachers as of July 1 must go on the performance pay model.

Greene said teachers must show growth on performance pay, which must be higher based on a rating system. Teachers will be rated highly effective, effective or needs improvement/devel

oping. Teachers can also receive a rating of unsatisfactory.

Assessments and testing are half of teacher evaluations. The other half on performance pay will continue to be the controversial value-added model, which will make all teachr ratings public.

The scores are based on a complex formula that, in part, pits a teacher's predicted student growth against the actual growth.

Bridget Mendel, a long-term substitute at Bashaw Elementary and the Student Advisory Council at Haile Middle School, said she has "little faith" in the validity of the value-added model system.

"The information parents don't understand about VAM scores is pretty heartbreaking," Mendel said. "It is an algebraic algorithm that a computer comes up with. It should be taken with a grain of salt."

Greene said teachers won't be the only ones under the fire to succeed when it comes to performance pay and student outcome.

"With this there is more pressure on not only teachers but also the children," Greene said. "I will go on record and say that I'm uncomfortable with it, but it is part of conforming to law. Hopefully we can find a balance and compromise, but this is what we are currently facing."

Superintendent Rick Mills said he plans to work with the Manatee Education Association and Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, on a new teaching evaluating tool. Mills said he aims to have something formulated by spring break this month.

Until then, the Manatee County School District must still brace for the impending state evaluation models.

Mendel said FCAT makes it is easy for high-performing teachers to be penalized when students already performing in the top tier on the state test do not show year-to-year improvement.

"How much growth can she actually make happen each year when she has really high FCAT scores?" Mendel asked. " If that goes into performance-based pay, how is that fair?"

Greene said at a high level, student growth sometimes means simply remaining at the high-performing level.

"It is very difficult to understand, but we are working hard to make it fair," Greene said. "But I don't know if we will be able to remove all thoughts and feeling about the process."

The FCAT will not play a factor much longer. Common Core, known in this state as the Florida Standards for College and Career Readiness, have been state board approved. The new assessment will be announced this month.

The standards will include handwriting for kindergarten through third grade, with cursive writing introduced in third grade. Also, writing will be combined into the reading and language arts assessment.

"Writing will be tied to what students are reading, not a stand-alone prompt that is pulled out of the blue," Greene said. "A lot will have to deal with historical topics, which is how they are integrating social studies into Common Core."

The new assessment will mean more informational texts and less literature. With the Florida Standards, civics, biology and American history final exams will now be a part of school grades.

"Middle school students who haven't taken civics too seriously will need to start taking it seriously because it will be part of middle school grades," Greene said.

As a counterbalance, Greene said the state expects the school grading system to be simpler with the rollout of Common Core.

"Right now you need two bachelor's degrees to understand the grading system at elementary, middle and high schools," Greene said.

Odessa Stapleton, executive director of human resources, updated the district staffing for full-time and substitute teachers. The School District of Manatee County now employs 2,547 teachers.

Stapleton said recruiting priorities include teachers for exceptional student education, middle school math and high school physics.

Greene said the district recently had to hire four new gifted teachers. Gifted is a branch of exceptional student education.

The district has hired 138 substitute teachers since November 2013 from the pool of 900 substitutes in Manatee district and surrounding counties.

A substitute teacher in Florida must have a minimum of 60 college credits. Long-term substitutes must possess a statement of eligibility from the Florida Department of Education.

As students prepare for final exams this year, there are concerns the impending tests have not been written yet. Greene said the state will have a waiver on the first assessment this year only.

The next community engagement forum will take place in April at a date to be determined.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at eearl@bradenton.com.

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