Monday, July 16, 2012

Teachers Upset with Florida's New Evaluation System

This weekend, the Orlando Sentinel published a story about how disgruntled teachers are with the  observation component of the state's new teacher evaluation system. 

In order to receive federal Race to the Top funds, states had to adopt new teacher evaluation tools basing a portion of that evaluation on student performance on standardized tests. The other aspect of the federal program involved states and districts adopting new teacher observation systems based on the latest educational research. Most of the districts in Florida adopted the evaluation framework of Robert Marzano, and the article focuses on this system since this is what most Central Florida districts adopted. Other districts are using systems by Charlotte Danielson and Douglas Reeves.

Though most teachers would agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with Marzano's or the other researchers' strategies, they are extremely disappointed with how districts have implemented the new teacher observation systems. The first problem is that the implementation of these strategies don't allow teachers to formulate and pick the strategies that work best for their individual classrooms. This system essentially acts as a cookie-cutter approach to teaching and doesn't allow much margin for teachers create or modify strategies that are effective for them and their students. These systems unintentionally result in all teachers having to teach exactly the same way, regardless of the content area, personality of the teacher, and the personality and learning styles of the students. 

Secondly, there has been a lot of ambiguity in how administrators have assessed teachers' implementation and performance of these strategies. There are countless stories of teachers doing exactly what one of Marzano's strategies instruct only to be told that they are doing too much or doing it too little. There are stories of two administrators observing a teacher at the same time and coming up with opposing scores. There are stories of some principals stating that no teacher will receive "innovating," the highest score, while other principals are giving out those scores liberally. 

The Orlando Sentinel article cites an award-winning teacher being cited as "beginning" in one of his observations. He had just erased the learning goal from the board, a large component of the evaluation system, to write something else immediately before his administrator walked into the room for an observation.

High-school chemistry teacher Steve Fannin was honored recently in Washington, D.C., as one of the nation's best math and science educators.
Fannin, a 31-year veteran of Tallahassee schools, has mastery of his subject and "exemplary" classroom skills, according to the judges of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Yet when Fannin was evaluated under Florida's new teacher-assessment system, the results weren't so impressive.
A mid-year evaluation identified him as a "beginning" teacher.
His failing? Fannin had erased the day's "learning goal" from his board to make room for information to help his students grasp the chemistry lesson at hand.
"It's just been real frustrating all the way around," Fannin said of the new system. "I don't see how that promotes innovation. I don't see how that helps student learning."
His views are echoed by teachers across the state, who say a classroom-observation system meant to improve their teaching instead reduces their work to what one Lyman High School educator called a "humongous checklist" of "artificial gestures."

Like I said, I do not believe that the strategies in the evaluation system are bad unto themselves. I believe that the problems stemmed from districts having to rush to pick an evaluation system, resulting in them not being able to train their administrators and teachers in the effective use of those strategies.  The Florida merit pay law required immediate implementation of its provisions with the only delay being the implementation of merit-based compensation. 

However, there is one district that took a different approach to phasing in the observation portion of the evaluation system, and I believe that there is not as much strife in this district as there are in other districts because of the methods used. Leslie Postal, the author of the Orlando Sentinel article posted this on the newspaper's blog about Volusia County's approach to the new teacher evaluation system:

But in Volusia (using a modified version of [Charlotte] Danielson’s plan) the teachers union is positive about the new system. The difference?
The district, working with the union, tweaked the model to include a teacher-directed improvement plan (that is each teacher selected something to work on based on their students’ needs and their own).  And Volusia decided to pilot the new system in just 14 schools this year, holding off going district wide until this coming August.
That made a huge difference, said Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teacher’s Organization.
“I’m not going to say there’s not apprehension from teachers. There is,” he said.
But he feels like Voluisa’s plan gave teachers “authority in their evaluation” and the year-long pilot gave the district and the union time to work out problems — and there were plenty.
“If we didn’t have this one year of learning time, we would have been screaming and crying like everyone else,” Spar said.
Volusia County Schools did what many successful companies do with a new product. (I thought I'd throw that in since government is always told to act like the private sector). The district sought the input of its teachers and piloted the program to work out the kinks. Though there will always be people who will be resistant to change, I think this district and its union did a magnificent job of softening the blow of such a rapid change. 

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