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Florida released preliminary results of its recently revamped teacher evaluations from the 2011-2012 school year Wednesday. There was variation among districts, but statewide more than 2 percent of teachers were rated poorly, compared to less than 1 percent in years prior.

Teacher effectiveness

Since 2010, The Hechinger Report has been taking an in-depth look at efforts to improve teacher effectiveness. What’s the best way to identify a good teacher? Should test scores be used to hire and fire teachers? How is the role of a school principal changing? Are schools improving as a result of the new efforts?

In all, about 22 percent of classroom teachers were found to be “highly effective” and 74.5 percent “effective.” Nearly 2 percent were rated as “needs improvement,” and just 0.3 percent were deemed “unsatisfactory.” In a separate rating system for teachers with three or fewer years of improvement, only 1 percent fell into the “developing” category.

Rankings varied widely, however, as each district was left to own devices to design student growth measurements for teachers in subjects and grades that do not participate in state standardized testing—the majority of teachers. Student achievement must count for 50 percent of the new evaluations. The other half of the evaluation is based on other factors, including classroom observation ratings, systems which districts also designed on their own.

The Florida Virtual School, for example, rated 92 percent of its teachers as effective, while the Okaloosa County School District rated 79.7 percent of its teachers as highly effective and the rest effective. But in the Franklin County School District, two-thirds of teachers were found to need improvement.

And in the state’s largest school district, Miami-Dade, results were not given for more than 99 percent of teachers. Although evaluations had been conducted for the more than 20,000 teachers in the school system, the information had not yet been sent to the state. The city’s teachers union and the school district are still negotiating cut scores for each rating, according to the Miami Herald.

The Department of Education pulled the report from its website on Wednesday afternoon after discovering that Hillsborough County and other schools districts counted some teachers twice. An updated report is expected Thursday afternoon and a final report with all teachers included will be available in January.

The state was pleased with the overall results so far, said Kathy Hebda, deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education. “The good news is that districts are using the different performance ratings,” she said. She said the fact that 2 percent of teachers received the low ratings was an improvement on the previous system, when 99.7 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory.  That number “doesn’t give people a lot of information about what’s going on,” she said.

Florida moved to the forefront of the national education reform movement in 2011 with an aggressive piece of legislation that mandated that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student test scores using a value-added model. The controversial, yet popular, model uses a complicated formula to determine how a student is expected to perform on a test. Teachers are assumed to be effective if the student achieves that score.

Starting in 2014, a teacher’s evaluation rating will determine which teachers will be fired and which will receive pay increases.

Florida teachers have expressed concern since the legislation was passed that the changes place too high a stakes on unproven methods. The state’s teachers union, the Florida Education Association, has asked Governor Rick Scott to suspend use of the value added model in high stakes decisions until is proven to improve teaching and learning. The union reiterated that stance Wednesday when President Andy Ford described the system as “not ready for prime time.”

“This is a clearly flawed process that needs much tweaking and revamping before teachers and parents can trust in the validity of the Value Added Model,” Ford said in a press release. “Florida teachers are not afraid of accountability – we welcome it. But it is essential that everyone believes in the evaluation system and that it accurately reflects what we accomplish in the classroom.”

The Department of Education says it expects to see changes; some districts have already made some for the following school year. The DOE will also run analyses of the data and sharing with districts how they stack up to others.

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