Florida teacher evaluation system: Concerns mounting over future of new teacher evaluation system

TALLAHASSEE -- Questions are continuing to mount about the future of Florida's new teacher evaluation system, with Senate President Don Gaetz becoming the latest state official to wonder if the system needs to be overhauled.

Gaetz told newspaper editors and reporters at the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Session on Wednesday that he was concerned about the system, which could affect teachers' pay and job security within three years.

"I want to make sure that we don't create a system that we can neither explain nor implement," said Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Late last year, Gaetz and other legislative leaders were dismissive of calls by the Florida Education Association to halt the teacher evaluations, which are part of a 2011 law designed to tie teacher pay more closely to student performance. But lawmakers and new Education Commissioner Tony Bennett have talked openly in recent weeks about tweaking the law, passed after a lengthy battle between Republicans in the Legislature and the state's teachers unions.

One common source of concern is that teachers' grades do not always dovetail with a school's grade -- there might be a low number of teachers rated highly at "A" schools, for example, or an unexpectedly high number of reportedly effective teachers at a "C" or "D" school.

"I think we have to start with drawing a line that connects those data points," Gaetz said. "And if we can't do that, then I think we're going to have a hard time explaining this to teachers and explaining it to parents. We have to be able to win this debate at the PTO meeting and the school advisory council, and we haven't won the debate."

Gaetz appeared with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who in 2010 pushed similar legislation that was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Weatherford didn't address Gaetz's comments.

Gaetz did not specifically outline any changes that he would like to see made to the law.

The law was meant to strengthen accountability for teachers by tying at least half of their evaluations to the growth in students' test scores. But educators have grumbled that the formula being used is overly complicated and leads to counterintuitive results; they also say that it's difficult to use tests to evaluate some teachers.

Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the law, signaled that he's waiting for recommendations from Bennett after hearing complaints from teachers.

"They believe in accountability," Scott said. "They want it to be fair. They want to make sure that they're being measured in a fair way. So I've asked Tony Bennett to look at that and he's doing that right now."

And Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said it will be difficult to make changes to the formula.

"I haven't seen a truly good model that's fair to both sides, to those teachers that are at schools that are struggling and those that are at schools that are well," Smith said. "We do need to look into it, but I honestly haven't seen a model that's truly fair to all sides."


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