TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Margaret Goodman says she received high marks from all five principals she's worked for during 39 years, yet Florida's new evaluation system gave her a low rating of "needs improvement."
The third-grade teacher at St. Petersburg's Westgate Elementary School on Tuesday said the system's value-added model, or VAM, is demoralizing and unfair. It's based on student test scores, but Goodman said her evaluation was based on exams taken by students she didn't teach.
"The reality is the value-added model has nothing at all to do with adding, nor does it have anything to do with my proficiency as a teacher," Goodman said.
She was one of several teachers who spoke at a news conference called by the Florida Education Association to support the teachers union's call to put the evaluation plan on hold. Republican legislative leaders and a Department of Education official, though, defended the system as being necessary to hold teachers accountable for student performance.
Goodman said all kindergarten through third-grade teachers at her school received the same school-wide VAM rating of 11.27 out of 50 possible points based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores of fourth- and fifth- graders because their own pupils don't take the FCAT. Only 35,000 of 225,000 teach FCAT-tested grades and subjects that are used in the evaluation system: reading, writing and math.
In some cases teachers said their own students' tests were not used in their evaluations. The teachers also said the system penalizes those who work at struggling schools and that results still aren't all in for the last school year — rendering those that have been delivered unuseful for making personnel, pay and career decisions. They also said the VAM formula is untested, not supported by research, and too complex.
Union president Andy Ford unsuccessfully appealed to Gov. Rick Scott to suspend the evaluation system in a Nov. 5 letter. The union now plans to appeal to the Legislature to revise the law it passed last year requiring VAM-based evaluations. Those evaluations will be used to determine which teachers should be retained and which ones should get merit pay when the system is fully effective in three years.
The association also has filed a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality.
State Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former Okaloosa County school superintendent, was dismissive of the union's complaints.
"I'm shocked, shocked that a union doesn't want to have their members evaluated on the basis of performance," Gaetz said.
Ford said teachers support a fair, accurate and reliable performance-based evaluation but that Florida's system "isn't it."
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his chamber is willing to examine the union's criticisms, but added that anything diluting "the amount of accountability or measurement" would have little chance of passing.
Some complaints raised by the teachers are the result of choices made by local school districts, said Kathy Hebda, the state's deputy K-12 chancellor for educator quality.
Hebda said the law, which tracks similar evaluation requirements in Florida's $700 million federal Race to the Top grant program, provides various options for assessing non-FCAT teachers including using local tests. Districts also can revise their choices if they aren't satisfied with them. Some already have changed their teachers' 2011-12 evaluations.
"That's part of the built-in improvement process both in the grant and in the law," Hebda said.
Regardless of the process or options, Nathalie Faulk, was unhappy with her evaluation. She said 88 to 93 percent of her Yulee High School biology and French students passed their end-of-course tests, but the VAM formula cut the rate to just 54 percent.
"Value-added model?" Faulk asked. "Perhaps more of a value-subtracted model."