The heralded move to greater transparency and accountability hit a bit of a snag in Florida this week after the state Department of Education had to remove the teacher assessment data from its website just hours after posting it. The statement from the DOE explained that the information had to be removed because it contained a number of errors due to a bureaucratic snafu that caused some teachers to be double-counted.
This continues a string of problems encountered by the state during the rollout of Florida's new teacher evaluation system. Many teachers around Florida complained about the stress the new system placed on them, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of instructors in the state were rated either "effective" or "highly effective" this year.
Perhaps the most succinct summary of the flap was delivered by Bob Schaeffer, public education director for Fair Test, who used "garbage in, garbage out," – a popular statistics and programming phrase – to describe it. Fair Test has long advocated against the excessive standardized testing that underlies Florida's assessment system. He said in a rush to deploy the system, state administrators didn't take enough time making sure that it was ready, thus the resultant screw-up was not unexpected.
"We told you so," said Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.
The Florida Legislature approved the comprehensive new system and moved to implement it so quickly that it amounted to "trying to do something that's impossible to do at breakneck speed," he said.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that this is not the first time that the DOE "botched" a data release. Earlier this year, ratings for over two hundred Florida schools had to be yanked and the schools re-graded.
There was also an incident with the new, tougher FCAT writing test, when the passing grade had to be temporarily lowered because, according to officials, the DOE didn't effectively communicate with districts, which resulted in a substantial uptick in failure rates statewide.
On Wednesday, the department posted the data at 10:30 a.m. and at 11 started a conference call for nearly an hour with news reporters from across the state. By early afternoon, Hillsborough County school officials had noticed the state said it employed 23,970 teachers — but the real number was less than 15,000.
"The numbers don't look right, and it's not just us," Hillsborough schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "We have asked the DOE to look at them."
"They were the first to notice it and they called our people," Sucher said later. Department officials then noticed that some other districts, but not all of them, also had data that was double-counted.