BROOKSVILLE, FL -- April 12, 2021 In a letter issued by the US Department of Education in February, states were advised that they would have flexibility in determining how to apply the results of this year's standardized tests. Since then, districts have been awaiting clarification from Tallahassee regarding what--if any--accountability components might be waived. That clarification arrived late last week when the Commissioner of Education for the state of Florida issued an Emergency Order waiving accountability standards tied to standardized tests. Read the order here:
The emergency order makes clear that the districts will be empowered to make determinations regarding student graduation and promotion, as well as whether to opt into school grades and improvement ratings. Additionally, the order provides flexibility in the requirement for community service hours under the Bright Futures Scholarship program. What remains unclear is the extent of flexibility offered when it comes to applying student performance measures to teacher evaluations. An initial statement from FEA applauded the move to hold students and schools harmless, adding
"The educators who have served Florida’s students throughout the pandemic also deserve to be shown some grace. They have faced unprecedented challenges this school year.”
Concerns for the validity of student performance measures in teacher evaluations have been a touchpoint of advocacy for HCTA members since last Spring. Chief among these concerns is the high transition rate of students from learning environment to learning environment--under DOE Order No. 2020-E0-07, districts were compelled to maintain the 'full panopoly of services' while they were expressly prohibited from 'unreasonable restriction' of parental choice. Given the amount of disruption to instruction that the movement of students has created, it seems increasingly less likely that student performance measures will offer a truly fair assessment of teachers' instructional effectiveness.
The state, in anticipation of low student participation in testing this Spring, has already requested a waiver of federal testing requirements acknowledging that it will unlikely be able to test 95% of all students.
What does the new emergency order mean for teachers?
Districts all across the state are asking the very same question, and interpretation of the order's impact on teacher evaluations has initially varied. FEA President Andrew Spar has conveyed that a meeting with Commissioner Corcoran scheduled for later today could provide answers.
Locally, HCTA is seeking clarification from the Superintendent regarding the district's intent, noting that leadership in other districts have already signaled that VAM will not be tied to teacher evaluations for the 2020-21 school year. If it is true that districts have been empowered to make independent determinations regarding the use of student performance measures in teacher evaluations, members can be assured that HCTA is advocating for teachers to be held harmless along with our students and schools.