County schools looking forward: Evaluating teacher evaluation

By: 
Mar. 25, 2013

The district's new teacher-evaluation model is now established in more than 80 schools throughout the county. But officials say the program's far from perfect.

BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER

In its first year in all Volusia County schools, the district's new teacher-evaluation program is, itself, being evaluated.

The new model, which Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, calls data-driven, was expanded from a pilot program of 14 schools last year to more than 70 schools this year.

But while the evaluation program might be a step in the right direction, officials say it is far from a finished product.

“The new evaluation, in terms of the system that the (Volusia County) school system developed, is positive,” said Superintendent Margaret Smith. “It was collaborative with the teachers union and staff and teachers. They worked hard to come up with a good instrument.”

The fine-tuning, Smith said, needs to be focused on the part of the program handed down from the state, the Value-Added Model.

A major concern Smith and Spar have with the Value Added Model is that it utilizes student performance in math and science classes as indicators of effectiveness for all teachers, whether or not they instruct those subjects. The grades for English and physical education teachers, for instance, are impacted by student achievement in math and science courses.

Still, the Value Added Model is required by the state and makes up half of the new evaluation program. The other half is where Smith and Spar see positive strides.

This year, Spar said, evaluations are more fact-based. When administrators observe teachers in the classroom, their evaluations must be backed by evidence and examples from the teachers' lesson plan. The goal is to take subjectivity out of the equation.

There are also self-evaluations, a new evaluation rubric and teacher practice plans, which include goals.

“It’s too early, at this point, to assess, ‘Is it doing what we want it to do?” Spar said, “We're still in the learning phase. ... But its definitely the direction we need to go.”

Spar said that some of the frustration with the new program stems from its inherent newness — after just one pilot year, it was expanded to all conty schools.

But the expansion was a necessary step, according to Smith, and now that it’s been implemented, officials are tasked with making their new system better.

“The first time you have something in all schools, you evaluate it and fine-tune it,” Smith said. “And we’re in that process now.”

The new evaluation program is also a first step toward performance pay for teachers, which Spar said is a work in progress and requires the adequate funding, which is currently unavailable.