So far this year, 97% of Florida teachers have been awarded one of the top two evaluation scores – "highly effective or "effective"- according to information released this week, and for the second year in a row, the percentage of Florida's teachers earning the "highly effective" rating has increased.
Over 42% of Florida's teachers were given the top rating, a number significantly higher than the 23% from two years ago. Over 50% of teachers were rated as "effective".
John O'Conner, writing for NPR's State Impact, says the low scores have changed very slightly from last year. A mere 1.3% of state teachers earned a rating of "needs improvement", and three in 1,000 were rated "unsatisfactory." Almost one in five teachers still remain unrated.
The evaluations are required by a 2011 law and are based, at least partially, on student test scores. This is the third year that the scores have been released to the public. Those teachers who rate poorly could require additional training and supervision. School districts in Florida are given some flexibility in establishing their evaluation systems, which contributes to the large number of "effective" and "highly effective" teachers.
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart expressed her pride in the many teachers who rated so highly. She added that:
"There's no doubt that some of our school districts still need improvement and we should not have any failing schools. This is why we're continuing to examine many factors that affect student outcomes, including our assessments."
The standardized tests scores are a part of the Florida 2011 teacher merit pay law which states that teacher evaluations must be based, in part, on student test data, along with other information which is funneled into a complicated state formula and combined with classroom evaluations, writes Leslie Postal writing for the Orlando Sentinel.
The test has so far been based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test's reading and math exams. In the future it will based on the new Florida Standards Assessments and new end-of-course tests. Most schools have devised their evaluations to minimize the impact of the test data. The reason for this is that many educators are not convinced that students' scores on standardized tests are a reliable measure of teachers' ability.
The percentage of teachers who scored the highest ratings got those scores because some districts wanted to protect teachers' contracts and pay, at a time when tests and standards have been in a state of flux, according to Jeffrey S. Solochek and Cara Fitzpatrick, reporting for the Tampa Bay Times. In Pasco County, "highly effective" teachers jumped from 4.7% last year to 81.5% "after teachers won contract concessions making it easier to get that mark."
When the change came in 2011, the student test result portion of teacher evaluations began to count for 50%. Administrators and teachers became confused and questioned the authenticity of this formula.
Pinellas County superintendent Mike Grego says, "Local districts need to be the ones in the business of teacher evaluations."
Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning thinks that the state involvement, along with guidelines, would change the number of teachers in each rating tier to a more realistic standing.
"How do you have 99 percent of our teachers rated effective or highly effective?" Browning asked. "It just can't be."
Meanwhile, Hernando County superintendent Lori Romano understands that the evaluation system has problems. She stated that the process is a work in progress.
"It definitely is not an exact or ideal system," Romano said. "But think about where we came from."
Hillsborough County schools had 228 of the 460 teachers rated "unsatisfactory".
"Our system has been developing over the last four years," superintendent Mary Ellen Elia said. "It's been a focal point in the work that we've done to improve outcomes for our students."