Most of Florida's public-school teachers earned good evaluations under a new and highly controversial evaluation system, data released this morning showed.
Across the state, nearly 97 percent of teachers evaluated earned "effective" or "highly effective" ratings, the top two scores in the plan, according to a report from the Florida Department of Education. More than 22 percent of them got the coveted top mark, and about 3 percent were rated poorly.
Broward largely mirrored the state, with 98.9 percent of teachers earning "highly effective" or "effective" ratings, the state report showed.
Steve Levine, a drama teacher at Plantation High, said he's not surprised that teachers did well on their evaluations.
"We were pre-trained, and had a decent knowledge going in what was expected of us," said Levine, a 26-year veteran who received an evaluation of effective. "We go in the trenches every day, doing the best we can to get kids up to the next level."
The results for Palm Beach County, however, were not available because the district received an extension by the state and has until Dec. 14 to submit its evaluations.
"Because this is an implementation year, and there were several issues statewide, the state agreed that more time is OK," said district spokesperson Nat Harrington. "We want to make sure it is fair and it is consistent."
Despite the high scores, many teachers and union officials were troubled by the measurements and cited flaws in the evaluation system.
Richard Cantlupe, a social studies teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland called it "totally unfair" even though he received an "effective" mark. "You can actually open up the FCAT, scribble anything you want in it and that tests counts on a teacher's score and it counts for a school grade," he said. "You could lose your job over scores you have no say over."
Sharon Glickman, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said she was concerned only 7 percent of teachers earned the highest rank and called the measurements inaccurate.
Broward school officials said the results released by the state were inaccurate because the total number of personnel evaluated was inflated but added that the distribution of rankings was pretty close to their actual data. They said they were working with the state to address the discrepancies.
The data is for the 2011-12 school year, the first time teachers were evaluated under a new system put in place by the passage of Florida's teacher merit pay law in 2011 and also required by the state's federal Race to the Top grant.
The state's school principals and non-classroom teachers, including media specialists and guidance counselors, also did well overall, with 94 and 98 percent of them, respectively, earning good evaluations, the report showed.
The new evaluations are based partly on student test-score data crunched through a "value-added" system and partly on new, more-detailed ways to judge teachers' classroom work.
Both parts aim to improve student learning but both have prompted criticism, complaints and frustration from teachers and led some teachers unions to make plans to file grievances.
The BTU said it is in the process of filing a grievance against the district in part because it believe it's unfair to grade teachers on subjects they don't even teach.
"We expect that several hundred teachers will be impacted negatively by the use of [student achievement] scores," said Gary Itzkowitz, field staff representative for BTU. "We had a large of number of teachers who were quite successful in the classroom practice piece; the student achievement piece brought their scores down."
The state report, however, shows the final results statewide didn't differ much from past years when most teachers were deemed "satisfactory," equivalent to the new "effective" rating, when judged by their principals.
"We are pleased with the data," said Kathy Hebda, deputy chancellor at the state education department.
It is valid and useful, Hebda said, but also shows districts used an "abundance of caution" when crafting the new, required evaluation systems.
This year each district decided on its own how to evaluate teachers who do not teach subjects covered by the FCAT, given in grades 3 to 10. Each district also decided its own standard for judging quality by the value-added data. That data is based on student FCAT scores pushed through a formula that aims to judge a teacher's effect on a child's test performance.
Those district decisions could explain some of the variations, Hebda said.
But even with most teachers earning the top ratings, some did get rated as needing to improve and 493 statewide were deemed "unsatisfactory."
That is an improvement from the old system when districts had just two performance categories for teachers and just .03 percent were below satisfactory, she said.
Next year the state will set the standard for using the value-added data, and many expect it will
be tougher, making it harder for teachers to earn good final reviews.
Under the new merit pay law, these evaluations could affect teachers' pay and continued employment.
And Itzkowitz says this is striking a dissonant chord among teachers.
"We're talking about people's lives and kid's lives," he said. "To play the lottery every year to see what they're going to get paid is not something that teachers are comfortable with."