Florida's teacher evaluation rules defective

March 12, 2014 

Florida's teacher evaluation system bears too many flaws to be worthy of setting standards for performance pay.

But the fact that the Florida Department of Education intended to seal those teacher rating scores away from the public only adds to the train wreck of a supposed accountability system.

The dubious and misnomered value-added model, known as VAM, assigns teacher scores based on a complicated formula alleged to be based on teacher effectiveness linked to student scores on standardized tests compared with statewide results.

But as the Florida Times-Union discovered in an investigative report, the margin of error on some of those teacher scores exceeded 50 percent. How could this possibly be used to help determine performance pay -- half as the law subscribes?

Worse, some educators are judged for student performance with youngsters not even in their classes. How is that even remotely equitable?

With assessments and testing accounting for half of a teacher evaluation and the other half base on VAM, this system is too defective to defend.

As Herald education reporter Erica Earl documented last week, teacher scores are based on a complex formula that compares projected student growth against real growth. The state relies on algebraic algorithms to determine the number -- the figure that factors into a salary without any human input.

Imagine a teacher with high performing students who only match their past excellent test scores. Is that teacher somehow less effective? There's no growth but isn't that teacher still excelling? How could the state mark that as an insufficient performance?

Thankfully, the Manatee County school district and Manatee Education Association are negotiating a new teacher evaluation system.

The Legislature and the Florida Department of Education should allow school districts to evaluate teachers based on their skill as observed in the classroom as well as recorded on student achievement -- not on an imperfect VAM number.

Take politics out of education and quit beating up on teachers.

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