TAMPA — A sweeping majority of Florida's teachers seem to be performing to the highest standards in the classroom, the newest round of evaluations say. However, some education experts say those findings contradict new reports on student achievement, and hint at bigger problems with the state's accountability system.
According to the state Department of Education, 98 percent of Florida teachers received an “effective” or “highly effective” rating for their work in 2012, and only 0.2 percent were considered “unsatisfactory.” The ratings should be good news, Ruth Melton, director of legislative relations for the Florida School Board Association, said at their meeting this past week. But it also raises questions about why “more bad teachers aren't showing up,” she said.
Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami-Dade, filed a bill Thursday to postpone Florida's newly-adopted teacher evaluation law until the 2015-16 school year, and a duplicate bill has been filed in the House. Otherwise, starting next year, the law will tie teacher evaluations to their pay and employment. Bullard said the high ratings raise questions about the validity of the current system, which allows each district to determine its own scoring method based on things such as students' learning and performance growth and classroom observations. The new system was meant to judge teachers more stringently, instead of giving high marks across the board despite student performance.
Still, when the newest evaluations are compared to new information on student achievement, “it just doesn't make sense,” said Kevin Baird, chairman of the nonprofit Center for College & Career Readiness.
Results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, which compares the academic progress of 15-year-olds across the globe, were released last week and show Florida students are behind their national and international peers in math and science, and about the same in reading. Florida's students not only perform at a lower level than others in the U.S., but also those in Croatia and Vietnam, according to the report.
Although 98 percent of Florida teachers are effective according to their ratings, only 6 percent of Florida's students met the international proficiency benchmarks for math and reading, and 5 percent for science.
“The next time you hear that we're already meeting standards for our kids, know that we're not doing it,” Baird said. “It isn't that our kids are getting dumber or we're going down, but everyone else is going up and they're going up faster.”
Because most teacher evaluations still rely heavily on students' performance on standardized tests and end-of-course exams, the international data could be a sign that many are still “teaching to the test,” Baird said.
In Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, no teachers were rated unsatisfactory, and in Hillsborough County 138 teachers, less than 1 percent, earned the designation. Out of the 163,986 teachers evaluated across the state, only 306 received a poor rating, according to the Department of Education.
Pinellas and Pasco already are creating new models for their evaluations. In Pasco, evaluations will be based on student classroom performance next year. Five Pinellas schools already are trying a method that relies less on standardized test scores and more on how well students perform on class work.
There are myriad reasons Pinellas teachers showed so much improvement on their evaluations, from adjusting to the new evaluation method to completing more professional development training, Superintendent Michael Grego said. However, Grego said he would like to see the practice of using standardized tests as the basis for teacher evaluations eliminated, and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents agree.
“We don't want to back ourselves into adjusting scores and repeating the numerous changes we've been making over the years because we have a faulty accountability system,” Grego said.
Although the Florida superintendents and the School Board Association are lobbying for changes to the teacher evaluation system, Melton said their efforts may not reap immediate benefits. “Because it's an election year, the most likely thing that will happen is further delays will be approved,” Melton said. “The last thing legislators want to do is spend an election cycle trying to explain the state's accountability system.”
Districts are still sending teacher evaluations to the department. An updated report will be released in January and a final one in March.
Tribune reporter Erin Kourkounis contributed to this report.