Florida Teachers Speak Out on Some of The Problems with the New Evaluation System
High-school chemistry teacher Steve Fannin was honored recently in Washington, D.C., as one of the nation's best math and science educators. Fannin, a 31-year veteran of Tallahassee schools, has mastery of his subject and "exemplary" classroom skills, according to the judges of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Yet when Fannin was evaluated under Florida's new teacher-assessment system, the results weren't so impressive. A mid-year evaluation identified him as a "beginning" teacher. His failing? Fannin had erased the day's "learning goal" from his board to make room for information to help his students grasp the chemistry lesson at hand. "It's just been real frustrating all the way around," Fannin said of the new system. "I don't see how that promotes innovation. I don't see how that helps student learning." His views are echoed by teachers across the state, who say a classroom-observation system meant to improve their teaching instead reduces their work to what one Lyman High School educator called a "humongous checklist" of "artificial gestures."
In some districts, for example, teachers felt judged mostly on whether their students used hand gestures to indicate how well they had learned something and on whether they wrote "learning goals" on the board every day. "I definitely felt it didn't capture everything I was doing," said Liz Randall, who teaches English at Lyman. "It's been humiliating for a lot of extremely accomplished people," added Mary Louise Wells, a longtime Orange County teacher who in 2002 was one of five finalists for the state teacher of the year award. "A lot of it is very clear, good educational practice," Wells said of the new evaluation plan but it was implemented so quickly and so rigidly that it made "a mockery of what I think the goal is." The system was introduced this past school year and is part of the new teacher evaluations required under a sweeping teacher merit-pay law (SB 736) the Florida Legislature adopted last year.
The most controversial piece of the law, which has been challenged in court by the state teachers union, requires that student test-score data be used to help judge teacher quality and, eventually, help set pay. The law says half of a teacher's evaluation will be based on that test-score information and the other half on a new, more-detailed way of observing teachers in action. Implementing the new observation system has not been easy, conceded Robert Marzano, the education researcher whose evaluation plan was chosen as Florida's model and then adopted by 31 school districts, including most in Central Florida. His organization said some districts have initially focused too narrowly on certain aspects of the plan, ignoring the complexity that is teaching, and frustrating teachers in the process. The state's quicker-than-ideal timeline for implementation likely created those problems as did districts' phased-in implementation of the plan, it said.