Results Vary Widely in Teacher Evaluations

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: December 4, 2013 3:55 AM
Classroom Teacher

The Department of Education released teacher evaluation numbers Tuesday that showed wide variations between districts across the state, raising questions about how useful the information might be in comparing marks from different counties.

Overall, the state report -- based on information provided by school districts as of Nov. 25 -- shows that 97.9 percent of classroom teachers were rated effective or highly effective for the 2012-13 school year. Just 0.2 percent were rated unsatisfactory, the lowest measure on the scale.

At the same time, evaluations hadn't been completed or submitted to the department for 13.7 percent of classroom teachers. Those numbers will be added when the report is updated in January or when it's finalized in March.

And the differences between districts for those teachers already evaluated were often wildly different. For example, 4.8 percent of teachers who had been evaluated in Desoto County were rated highly effective. But 89 percent of classroom teachers in Leon County made that grade. In Collier County, no teachers were rated highly effective, but 100 percent were rated effective.

State officials said that difference probably stems at least in part from the fact that, while state law provides "a framework" for how the evaluations are conducted, districts also have a great deal of leeway in determining what makes a teacher fall into one of four categories: highly effective, effective, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

"Where districts set the performance levels for each of the categories ... is up to the school district," said Kathy Hebda, chief of staff at the Department of Education.

For parents who want to know more about what the ratings mean in a particular district, Hebda said, "asking those questions locally is the place they should go."

The evaluation system and its connection to teacher pay under legislation approved in 2011 is under legal assault in state and federal courts by teachers' unions. In a separate case, The Florida Times-Union is seeking the release of the results for individual teachers from the "value added" model used in the evaluations.

Other evaluation data were also released Tuesday, including those for "nonclassroom instructional personnel," like librarians -- with 98.8 percent being rated effective or highly effective -- and those for school administrators, 97.1 percent of whom were rated effective or highly effective.


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