There’s Political Peril in Today’s Release of Florida VAM Scores

From the Tampa Tribune:

After a lengthy legal battle with a Florida newspaper, the Florida Department of Education released thousands of public school teachers’ individual value-added evaluation scores today.

The scores are from teachers’ evaluations during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, and measure teachers’ success by calculating student scores on the FCAT and other state end-of-course exams.

After the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville made the original public records request for the information in October 2012, the state Department of Education and the Florida Education Association went to court to prevent the scores from being released. However, in November the First District Court of Appeal ruled that VAM data isn’t exempt from Florida’s public records law.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart sent a letter to school superintendents and teachers saying the scores won’t be posted on the DOE website, but will be made available to anyone who requests them. Educators should be prepared, she wrote.

“We took on this fight because I believe the teacher-principal relationship for professional development is supported when evaluation information has a period of protection,” Stewart said in the letter. “Your work and dedication have helped to create a bright future for our state and our children, and I want to support that work in any way that I can.”

Although releasing the data was not the DOE’s “chosen path to increase its usefulness,” Stewart wrote that it provides an opportunity to “celebrate the achievement of Florida educators” and identify which areas the state should “continue improving.”

VAM, the expensive experiment championed by education reform rock stars Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, has come to be called “junk science” is some circles. People like Stewart are aware of VAM’s flaws, contradictions and limits. It’s the main reason the FDOE fought so hard to keep data private. Not any worries about protecting teachers or sensitive data. And too many politicians have their reputations at stake. Consider this:

If scores are all over the place, it serves as a simple validation that VAM is unreliable and cannot function as a template for teacher evaluations and merit pay. Rick Scott bought Michelle Rhee’s DC miracle gambit, and told Floridians that SB736’s VAM data was going to be great.

What if it’s not?

In steps Charlie Crist who voted down the same bill the year before. Crist, who still leads Scott by 5 points, will have another hammer to whack at Scott with. Moreover, Republican legislators will have to scurry around and defend any accountability legislation they are seeking to tweak this year.

As for Bush, a VAM catastrophe will be his second education policy embarrassment this year. The disastrous roll-out of Common Core happened on his watch.  His legacy as an education reform leader takes another hit at a time he wants to burnish presidential bona fides.

The release of VAM data is a major headache for Florida republicans of which they won’t be able to spin their way out and certainly don’t want to deal with now.

UPDATE: Gradebook posts the FEA response.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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