Miami is proving once again to be the slowest county in the state. Even Broward county, our competitor to the north in crime, corruption and government ineptitude, has beaten Dade county in releasing their teacher value added rankings. Teachers in Broward county received their VAM scores on November 10th. I did not find out about this through an investigative report in the Sun-Sentinel (our competitor to the north in annoying pop up ads and articles about people biting parts of other people’s faces off). I found out about it through a post on the Florida chat room of a teacher website.

One Broward teacher wrote a post complaining that out of the three teachers at their school to receive a VAM rating of “highly effective” one of them was the worst teacher at their school. This “highly effective” teacher didn’t even teach a reading related subject (the only test score used for VAM). They were just lucky to teach honors students who did well on the test. The only reason the teacher knew this information was because they had special access to everyone’s VAM rankings. Otherwise, teachers were merely told they were “effective” and not given their percentile ranking. The range to be rated “effective” was anywhere from 7% to 89%.  A teacher had to be rank above the 90th percentile to receive a “highly effective” rating and be eligible for bonus pay.  It was clear to the teacher who had special access to the rankings for the teachers at their school that teachers who taught honors students had much higher VAM scores than teachers that did not.

Florida teachers, keep in mind that at this juncture, each county is implementing VAM differently and deciding their own cut scores. I do not know if Broward county even has a “needs improvement” category. It seems that if any teacher above the 7th percentile is rated “effective” there is not much room for a separate “needs improvement” cut score versus an “unsatisfactory” ranking.  I was not surprised at all to see that you needed to be in the 90th percentile to receive the coveted “highly effective” ranking. In Dade county, even if a teacher received a perfect score of 50 on the observational portion of their evaluation, they cannot receive a “highly effective” evaluation without a “highly effective” VAM ranking (this way the district will have the ultimate say in how many teachers receive bonus pay). It was nice to see that the majority of teachers were rated “effective” (keep in mind that for Broward teachers there are no consequences for these evaluations until 2014 because they were not a Race to the Top district last year). However, if the net effect of our new teacher evaluation system is that the majority of teachers are rated effective (the complaint regarding traditional teacher evaluation systems was that too many teachers were rated effective) what is the point of the millions upon millions of dollars being spent on revising the teacher evaluation systems? At least under the old system we had our evaluations completed at the end of the school year. At this rate, Dade teachers will be lucky to have a completed 2011-2012 evaluation by 2013 (Miami lag time). Any evaluation system that takes seven months for results should be immediately incinerated and the ashes should be spread across the sea so its remnants can never be exhumed to come back and haunt future generations of teachers.

Another aspect of the Broward teacher’s post disturbed me. Teachers were merely told that they were “effective” and did not have access to their percentile ranking. So you could be anywhere from the 7th to the 89th percentile and receive the same rating and never have any idea how far off you were from being rated “highly effective” or how in danger you were of being rated “unsatisfactory.” The fact that this teacher was privy to the percentile rankings of all the teachers at their school makes me think that this information isn’t so confidential after all and that if some teachers have access to this information, all teachers should have access to this information. Data needs to be transparent. Without transparency there is no room for questioning its accuracy and it even negates the value of the data in the first place.

Case in point, while conducting one of my frantic 3 am google searches (insomnia is getting a little old but the wee hours of the night is the only time this working mom of two young children has for herself) I found a question and answer website for Broward county “evaluation coordinators” (a new overpaid worthless administrative position I suppose). Here is one of the questions:

“14. Which report shows the teacher her individual student scores from last year so that teacher’s can analyze which of their students met, exceeded, or did not meet their expected score.
At this point, there is no such report. VAM data is only available at the teacher level.”
Aside from the incorrect grammar in the question, the most disturbing aspect is the answer.
With all of the dumpster loads of data the district has available, I find it hard to believe that a report showing teachers which students met, exceeded or failed to meet their expected score is not available. How did the state algorithm determine teacher VAMs without such data? Shouldn’t teachers have access to this information so they can improve their instruction? Shouldn’t teachers have access to the growth predictions for their students at the beginning of the year so they can monitor student growth? What is the point of all this data if in the end we are no better off knowing we are “effective” instructors than at the beginning? We are merely to be told we are “effective” or “needs improvement” without any information that would actually help us improve? The whole thing reminds me of a bad one night stand (not that I would personally have any experience in this matter).  Administrator meets teacher. Administrator gets their jollies telling said teacher they are “effective” or “needs improvement,” and then runs to the door for a quick exit. No questions asked.  Wham, VAM, Thank You Ma’am!

***An early version of this post appeared which included the exact words of the Broward teacher.  After contacting the Broward teacher, they asked me to remove their quote because they feared their identity might be revealed. Their post was very anonymous, but that is the level of fear and secrecy we are operating under. I guess they they had the mistaken impression that people actually read kafkateach’s blog.