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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Pinellas schools tweaking teacher evaluations

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LARGO — The Pinellas County school district’s attempt to overhaul teacher evaluations, as well as give teachers in the county’s most challenging schools an extra boost, will have its first test run at the start of the school year.

The current teacher-evaluation system relies on a complicated calculation of students’ performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and school administrators’ evaluations.

Under the current model, teachers are evaluated solely on students’ FCAT scores and administrator evaluations, regardless of whether their students are being tested on the subjects they teach. For those whose students don’t take the FCAT, such as 11th and 12th graders, teacher evaluations are determined by the school’s FCAT scores as a whole.

A team school district officials and teachers union representatives are working on a solution to the problem, coming up with different formulas to evaluate teachers based on the student they actually teach and building in an extra “priority point” for teachers in challenging schools, Superintendent Michael Grego said at Tuesday’s School Board workshop.

“We’re not just, as a district, going to sit by and passively complain about teacher evaluations, we’re going to create this system that’s going to be a whole lot better than what we’ve had to live with the past couple years,” Grego said. “It is a pilot, and it is messy work; but if this was so easy it would have been done a long time ago.”

Five pilot schools — Boca Ciega High, Azalea Middle, Westgate Elementary, Gulfport Elementary and Seventy-Fourth Street Elementary — will use the new evaluation measures during the upcoming school year, relying less on standardized test scores and more on how well students perform on classroom work.

Though the calculations differ based on subject and grade, elementary school teachers will be evaluated based on students’ performance on English tests given at the start and end of the school year; middle and high school teachers will be graded based on a combination of students scores on the FCAT, end-of-course exams, International Baccalaureate tests and the PERT college-readiness test.

The new evaluation model raises concerns for teachers working in underperforming schools, where students may be making large learning gains but still be unable to pass tests, School Board members said.

“There are students who come and don’t even know the basic math functions going for a standard diploma, and it’s not going to be fair,” said School Board member Linda Lerner. “I want the teachers who are the highest quality to be there, but they’re putting at risk their evaluation if it’s based on a passing rate and they’re teaching kids that are the most struggling.”

Not only would evaluations be at risk but also teachers’ paychecks. That’s why the school district wants to add an extra “priority point” to teachers scores at academically struggling schools, said Lisa Grant, the school district’s director of professional development. The School Board still has to determine how those schools would be determined.

“It isn’t clean, but the intent is to capture everybody in some way by having multiple layers and making it as meaningful as possible for as many individuals as possible,” Grant said.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

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