Changes loom for teacher evaluations in Manatee

BRADENTON -- It’s been about 10 years since the Manatee County School District made sweeping changes to teacher evaluations.

But Tuesday night, board members, a representative of the teachers union and district officials faced the overhaul that will need to be made to the documents by June 1. Board members perused the binder filled with documentation during a workshop.

Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber and Mike Wilder, schools leadership development coordinator, explained to board members potential changes needed to bring the evaluation process in line with requirements in the federal Race to the Top program. RTTT is a $4.35 billion federal program. Manatee County Schools received $5.13 million in RTTT dollars.

Now administrators have to make sure they follow guidelines mandated under the federal grant. To hear Barber and Wilder tell it, overhauling teacher evaluations will be no easy task.

“Most likely everything in our system will change,” Barber said.

The state, however, has yet to finalize what will be needed in each district’s evaluation process, Wilder and Barber said. Florida’s Department of Education announced Tuesday that they hired a consulting firm to help districts come up with an evaluation process based on research. However, Wilder and Barber can’t help but wonder one looming question.

“How do you measure teachers using student growth models?” Barber asked.

Wilder said it’s easy to say that we can test students at the beginning, middle and end of the year and measure what they have learned. But that won’t give a true assessment of what students have learned, he said.

“It’s so much more complex than that,” he said.

Barber added, “There are so many variables outside of a teacher’s control.”

What if a student moves from one school to another? If that student moves, which teacher will be given credit for the student’s improvement? And that’s only a portion of the questions the state and district officials, plus teachers union representatives have to consider.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Wilder said.

Meanwhile, a bill in the Florida Senate also is forcing districts to come up with an evaluative process that can measure students’ growth.

The bill’s wording has been drafted to make it coincide with Race to the Top.

Between now and June, Wilder and Barber plan on directing their respective groups to collaborate with other school districts that have received the federal dollars.

They are also looking at other states like Tennessee and Delaware to draft the final paperwork.