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Florida: Where Every Teacher is Above Average

A new national report just came out and Florida, you should really give yourself a firm handshake and a pat on the back. No, not because you scored “green” across the board, suggesting you’ve held to high standards for teacher evaluations. You deserve praise for an immaculate deception. You’ve made the nation think that you’re one of the stalwarts in teacher evaluation despite the fact that in actuality, we have little idea how effective our teachers are.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, some of the best minds in the business, found that despite a bipartisan surge in support for stronger, more meaningful, teacher evaluations during President Barack Obama’s administration, since about 2015, states have started to backslide. After choosing to factor in some measure of student growth starting in about 2009, many states started scratching the requirement from their laws six years later under intense political pressure from state and national teachers unions. 

Florida backslid too, but here we did it with finesse. Instead of abruptly saying, ‘No more testing data will be factored into teacher evaluations,’ our legislature said, ‘we’ll still require each district to look at student performance for teacher evaluations, but the districts and teacher get to choose what they count as student performance.’

That’s kind of like telling your son he has to get good grades in school, and then letting him decide what’s on the test.

Not only that, but there’s no uniformity; each school district across our beautiful state can come up with their own system for measuring student performance. That means, if you’re curious about how good the teachers in Leon County are compared to Palm Beach County, you have no way to compare teachers from one district to another. There’s no standard anymore. 

It didn’t used to be this way. During the brief national education renaissance of 2009, Florida implemented a uniform way of including student test data into a teacher’s evaluation: The Value-Added Model. It wasn’t perfect (no measuring system is), but it was arguably the best way anyone had ever devised to factor out all the things that are outside of a teacher’s control. Things like poverty, trauma, behavioral issues, etc. All the things teachers rightfully worry about when faced with the prospect of being evaluated by a test. 

Also, that student performance part only made up about a third of the total evaluation score. But it was an important part because common sense tells us that teachers should be measured, at least in part, on the thing they were hired to do: Help students learn.

Today we have an evaluation system where in my home county, Leon, literally 99.6 percent of teachers are rated “Highly Effective” or “Effective” — The two highest ratings. And most of those — 83.9 percent — are highly effective. 

Statewide, the trend is similar: 98.4 percent of teachers are Effective or better with almost nobody “needing improvement” or “unsatisfactory.”

Now consider that less than half of our 4th graders statewide are proficient in math and reading, and roughly two-thirds of our 8th graders aren’t reading or doing math at proficient levels. 

Does that feel right to you? Do you believe that none of our teachers “need improvement”?

To me, it feels dishonest.

This piece first ran here in The Capitolist.

What Do You Think?
Lane Wright
Lane Wright is a writer for Project Forever Free, and the director of partnerships at Education Post. He tells stories that help families understand how their schools are doing, how to make them better, and how policy plays a role. He’s a former journalist and former press secretary to Florida's former Governor, Rick Scott. He specializes in breaking down complex education reform policy issues into easy-to-understand concepts. Lane and his wife life in Tallahassee, Florida with their three children, two of whom attend a public charter school.

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