Friday, March 29, 2013

Florida SB 980: Evaluating Teachers' Real Students

Aside from the fact that SB 736, the so-called "merit pay law," requires test scores to be used in teacher evaluations, many teachers find themselves being evaluated on the performance of students they do not teach. Many districts opted to evaluate non-FCAT teachers based on whole-school results. This includes teachers of electives such as band, art, general music, physical education, foreign language, computer science, etc. as well as students in kindergarten, 1-3 grades, and 11-12 grades. (While third graders take the FCAT, there is no prior set of data from which to compare, so teachers do not receive a VAM based on their students.)

Well, the Legislature is in the process of voting a new bill, SB 980, which would require districts to evaluate teachers on the students they actually teach. Here is an excerpt from the Gainesville Sun discussing the bill:

Efforts to revise the way Florida public school teachers are evaluated took a big step forward when a key legislative committee unanimously approved proposed changes.
The Florida Senate Committee on Education last week approved Senate Bill 980, which "says that we are going to link teacher evaluations to the students that they actually teach," Sen. Anitere Flores said at the March 18 committee meeting.
"We just want to make sure that (evaluations are) done in a fair process — that's what this bill does," she said.
Herschel Lyons, deputy superintendent for Alachua County Public Schools, said legislators are headed in the right direction.
"It's wonderful that they have taken these steps," he said. "Teachers welcome accountability, but we want to make sure it's the students that they teach."

Since it appears that we are stuck with VAM for now, this is at least a step in the right direction. I call it reforming the reforms. However, a huge flaw still remains. While teachers will be evaluated on students they actually teach, many will still be evaluated in subject areas they don't teach until districts create their subject area exams. I think this flaw is bigger than the "students they don't teach" issue, because the VAM as it stands today does not show that teachers of these other subjects are increasing student achievement in those areas.

This is what happens when a law is passed purely to settle a political score instead of what is in the best interests of all involved parties. Those opposing the original merit pay laws (SB 6 and SB 736) voiced these concerns the first time around, but no one wanted to listen. The supporters just brushed these complaints off as people wanting to stick with the status quo. Now, it's time for the Legislature to clean up its own mess.

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