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News Story
Updated: 03/05/2014 08:00:03AM

Grading teachers is a complex perplexing issue

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Florida’s Value Added Model — an equation used to grade a teacher’s performance — has been called complex, confusing and unfair. Early results indicate all those adjectives are appropriate.

The Florida Department of Education came up with the plan a couple of years ago to reward top teachers and coax those whose performance is lacking to improve. Eventually the state plans to tie VAM scores to a teacher’s pay.

Early evidence indicates there is no easy way to tell if a teacher is doing the job in class, and coupling an evaluation with FCAT or, in the future, Sunshine State Standards tests, can be misleading.

The Tampa Bay Times has exposed weaknesses in the VAM process in a couple of stories this past year.

For example, the Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year, Patrick Boyko, is considered an outstanding educator by all practical standards. According to a Times story, Boyko beat out a band director, who tripled his program’s membership, a National Board Certified art teacher and a third-generation educator who brought robotics to elementary schools, for the honor.

“Patrick treasures his students and challenges them not only to be academically successful, but also as future responsible adults,” the Hillsborough Education Foundation wrote of Boyko.

Yet Boyko’s VAM scores were a minus 10.23. That means his students did 10 percent worse on the FCAT than similar Florida students. A year earlier, Boyko earned a VAM score of minus 19.

A year earlier, Geoffrey Robinson, a teacher at Osceola High in Pinellas County, had 60 percent of his upper-level calculus students test so well they earned college credit. Yet his VAM score in student achievement was 10.63 out of 40.

There are other examples of what appears to be unreliable or unfair VAM scores. Just using these examples from Times’ stories, it is obvious there is a problem.

We question how comparing test scores — especially those of teachers who do not teach the core subjects tested in FCAT — can give a clear picture of an educator’s value. The test cannot look into a classroom to see if the teacher is engaging and challenging students.

It cannot address whether the teacher has large classes, small classes or if the students that person is assigned are strong in the English language, or if they are getting any support at home.

There are so many variables involved in whether teachers are doing their job that no equation — especially one spelled out over 17 pages — can be accurate in every evaluation. And, in the cases where an evaluation is way off target, what alternative does that leave the school or the teacher? There is no appeal process we know of.

Florida, and other states, struggles to improve the education of its students. And, as unreliable as it is, testing seems like the one avenue to determine if students are getting a good education and whether or not our teachers are excelling at their craft.

So far, however, testing has not proven to be the perfect answer.

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