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State Poised To Approve New Teacher Evaluations

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(Source: CBS4) Children in a Florida classroom

(Source: CBS4) Children in a Florida classroom

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TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) – Florida teachers will learn Wednesday about the new test-based teacher evaluation formula that the state is set to approve.

As part of the requirements of the new teacher merit pay law and the mandates of the $700 million Race to the Top federal grant, the state and school districts are preparing for a major overhaul of how teachers are rated and paid.

Under the merit pay law, 50-percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on student learning gains on test scores, with the other half based on in-person evaluations by a principal, administrator or fellow teacher.

By 2014, a teacher’s salary will be tied to how well the teacher performs under this new formula.

Florida teachers are wary of these dramatic changes to how they have traditionally been evaluated and paid.

“Everybody is concerned when there is change of this kind and change of this magnitude,” said Kathy Hebda, the deputy chancellor for educator quality at the Florida Department of Education. “Change is always disconcerting and when you are a state this size it is normal and justified to be nervous about it.”

The Legislature approved this year a law that makes sweeping changes in teacher salaries, eliminating multi-year contracts and requiring that pay be tied to student learning gains in test scores.

This means some teachers, such as art instructors or kindergarten teachers, will have to introduce standardized testing to their classrooms for the first time. Others will see their student’s FCAT scores linked to pay.

“Many teachers will feel that all these many years they have been rated satisfactory and now with newer scrutiny there will be more details than anything they have ever experienced before,” said David Clark, the Race to the Top coordinator for the Leon County School District. “They wonder ‘Will I still be viewed as a good teacher?’ “

There is some wiggle room in the law for including other factors outside a teacher’s control, known as “value-added.” This was a topic of intense legislative debate this spring, with many Democratic lawmakers, who were critical of merit pay saying there were few details about what “value added” even means.

How to determine what “value-added” is was so vital the state convened a committee of two dozen teachers, administrators, parents and union officials to determine how teachers should be appraised.

Lee County elementary school teacher Joseph Camputaro beat out over 200 applicants to get a seat on the committee. Camputaro said there was a lot of interest from fellow teachers who were eager to sit on the panel that bears a lot of the responsibility for determining how teachers will be rated and paid in future years.

Camputaro said the goal was to figure out how to “level the playing field,” so that teachers were not punished for things outside of their control, such as their students’ class room attendance.

Though school districts don’t have to implement merit pay until 2014, they must begin using a new evaluation system and tracking student learning gains on test scores in some classes as soon as next school year. This new formula that includes “value-added” is designed for courses covered by statewide assessments such as the FCAT.

The committee devoted to studying the value-added model has settled on a formula that includes the overall performance of the school, and variables such as students with disability and gifted students, English as a second language, class attendance, class size, student ages, a student’s movement between schools and how much variety exists in student FCAT levels within a classroom. That will be factored in along with test score data.

The Commissioner of Education will choose whether to approve this formula on Wednesday. As soon as this summer, school districts will receive data based on previous years’ test scores and the new formula.

The law also provides some leeway for school districts to develop their own evaluation systems. Districts are required to do in-person evaluations for the other 50 percent of a teacher’s score.

This can include evaluations from principals or administrators or even fellow teachers.

But, the type of evaluation system districts use will have to be approved by the state.

No longer can a principal scribble complimentary remarks and some constructive criticism during a classroom review. The new systems are based on more specific and exhaustive guidelines, such as how well-prepared and engaged a teacher is, their “collegiality” and “professionalism,” and the content of what they teach.

Some Florida school districts are further along than others when it comes to developing evaluation systems tied to merit pay. Miami-Dade County schools announced on Friday that it has a merit pay plan ready to implement in the upcoming school year that could allow some of the district’s top performers to earn more than $100,000.

Teachers would also be eligible for one-time $25,000 bonuses based on FCAT scores. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said dollars the district received from Race to the Top will be used to pay the bonuses.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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