Teachers question fairness of new evaluation system at hearing

The official purpose of the meeting sounded dry and bureaucratic: Take public input on drafts of two state rules. But teachers at the three-hour hearing at Valencia College on Thursday made it clear that the subject of those two proposals -- Florida's new teacher-evaluation system -- was deeply personal and unnerving. Several used the meeting to ask questions but also to voice their doubts about the complicated evaluation system and to share their fears that job security would be unfairly tied to it. "You're going to lose me to another state," said Laura Ohl, a Spanish teacher at Lake Mary High School in Seminole County. "This is not making any sense to me," said Karen McCann, president of the Alachua County Education Association, who drove to Orlando for the meeting with several teachers from her district. "I'm really fearful we're jumping into this early. … I don't think it's ready." Her comments drew applause from the more than 100 people who attended the meeting in east Orange County. The new teacher-evaluation system includes an equation for calculating teacher quality -- a so-called value-added model that crunches student test-score data to figure out how much individual teachers helped their students improve. The system is required under Florida's 2011 teacher merit-pay law. It is being phased in, and the meeting focused partly on new statewide standards for using that value-added data. Seminole County schools ran their own data through the state's system and found hundreds more teachers and principals would end up with poor reviews than in past years.  That's because the state this year allowed each district to interpret the data. But now, the state is hammering out a tougher standard that all districts would have to use starting next school year. Ron Pinnell, Seminole's top human-resources administrator, said district educators worried that the system made no sense, as it could lead to the firing of six principals who preside over schools with A's and B's from the state. "What's the logic?" he asked at one point, as a deputy chancellor at the Florida Department of Education reviewed the state's proposal. Kathy Hebda, the department official, said Seminole's information was useful and the department planned something similar with statewide data. "It's vital for us to know," she said. She acknowledged several times that the system was complicated and implementation was not easy. "We'll have to decide as a state whether it's worth doing all this," she said. Hebda said the proposals under consideration likely would go to the State Board of Education for approval no earlier than June. In the meantime, the Florida Legislature, which begins its session next week, might make some changes to the law, as both lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott have said "tweaks" might be needed. Cindy Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher at Bonneville Elementary in Orange County, is her school's union representative and said it's a never-ending source of worry at her school. "My door is revolving."



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