DoE: First year of teacher evaluation 'painful'

Headline Goes Here Ferre' Dollar/CNN

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A day after the Florida Department of Education issued and then pulled back information on teacher evaluations across the state, interim Commissioner Pam Stewart told lawmakers that the first year of a new attempt to pay teachers according to performance was "painful."

Stewart's appearance Thursday followed the agency's decision to pull down information about teacher evaluations for the 2011-12 school year, saying a relatively small number of teachers had mistakenly been counted multiple times in certain categories in the state's overall numbers.

"I think this is a painful year," Stewart said at a meeting of the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "I think any time you implement something this large for the first time, there are growing pains. I think that the '12-'13 year will be much more telling, and how we do as we move forward."

By late Thursday afternoon, a corrected version of the information originally released by the department was available. And the agency pointed out that the percentages of teachers rated in each category changed only slightly.

But Stewart and lawmakers also discussed a looming change for the 2014-15 year, when local school districts are supposed to develop ways to assess the growth in student performance -- the basis of teacher pay under the new regime -- in courses that don't currently have state-backed tests available.

Currently, many teachers for those courses are being evaluated based on other numbers; kindergarten teachers, for example, are sometimes evaluated based on an entire school's performance on state tests, despite the fact that kindergarten students do not take state tests.

"That's one of the things that we are facing that is problematic for us, that is one of the biggest concerns that we hear and will be corrected each year as we move forward through this system, as those assessments are developed and used in districts," Stewart said.

But some lawmakers sounded skeptical, noting that a curriculum based on a national model, tests matching that curriculum and other changes are also slated to take effect at the same time. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-New Port Richey, said he supported each change on its own.

"But when you add them all together, it looks like we have one runway in 2014 coming up. ... Should we maybe look at the flight path of all these different planes that are coming and maybe adjust some of the timetables for some of these flight paths to land correctly on that year?" he asked.

Stewart didn't directly answer.

"I think that as we move forward, time is going to tell us whether or not we did this in the right sequence or not, and we need to be looking along the way incrementally to determine whether or not we need to make shifts," she said.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said after the meeting that he was less concerned with the correction of the evaluation numbers than with the deadline for the local tests -- and that the state should delay some of the changes.

"I'm of the opinion now that we cannot get done in a year and a half what needs to be done to implement the programs and changes the way we should do them," said Montford, a former Leon County superintendent of schools. "We should not do them halfway."

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