Investigating Superintendent Perceptions in Florida:  The Advent of New Teacher Evaluation Systems

Race to the Top (RttT) is a federal program designed to promote competition between states to reform and innovate K-12 education programs; states that make substantial progress in raising standards receive Federal Government grant money (U.S. Government Accountability Office [USGAO], 2014).  To many scholars and practitioners, the limitations of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind necessitated RttT, and this new initiative has been valued for revolutionizing the reform efforts of K-12 schools across the nation (McGuinn, 2012).  As a result of RttT, substantial changes to state and local school policies have been implemented (McGuinn, 2012).

Educational reforms under the RttT program include the improvement of teacher and principal effectiveness (USGAO, 2014). Aspects of teacher and principal effectiveness include evaluation policies and processes, and in exchange for receiving federal funding from the RttT initiative, school districts must adopt a new teacher and principal evaluation system (U.S. Department of Education, 2009).  Subsequently, school districts have been working to design teacher evaluation systems that demonstrate fairness, transparency, and differentiated effectiveness by making major reforms to their current evaluation systems (U.S. Department of Education, 2009).

Under the Selection Criteria for the Reform Plan, the local educational agency (LEA) is required to

[d]esign and implement rigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation systems for teachers and principals that (a) differentiate effectiveness using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth . . . as a significant factor, and (b) are designed and developed with teacher and principal involvement.  (U.S. Department of Education, 2009, p. 9). Therefore, as opposed to rating teachers and principals in the traditional dichotomous meets expectations versus unsatisfactory method, educational leaders and teachers are now evaluated on their effectiveness using multiple rating categories.  This new evaluation strategy is designed to more efficiently describe areas in need of improvement (U.S. Department of Education, 2009).

Introduction and Background

Although the new teacher evaluation systems are intended to identify teachers’ strengths and weaknesses with more precision, this evaluation system has not been openly received by all scholars and educational leaders (Herman, 2011).  In fact, there have been conflicting views regarding this new program and what should be included in the new teacher evaluation systems (Doherty, 2009; Herman, 2011).  As Herman (2011) indicates, one assessment alone should not be used to determine teacher effectiveness.  Because continuous improvements can only be facilitated when evaluation systems include a rubric that uses multiple methods of collecting teacher effectiveness information, observation rubrics are also needed in teacher evaluation systems (Doherty, 2009).

Accordingly, Curtis (2012) suggests five categories of information should be considered in teacher evaluations: a) student outcomes, b) teacher inputs, c) professionalism, d) feedback from students, and e) development of students’ characters.  Moreover, based on individual teacher contributions and input, Herman (2011) maintains that student growth assessments should also be included in teacher evaluations.  Although Shakman, Riordan, Sánchez, DeMeo Cook, Fournier, and Brett (2012) agree that teacher evaluation systems should include multiple measures of performance, and be based on a range and depth of evidence, they note that evaluations should include teachers’ knowledge and education about content, processes between teachers and students, and outputs such as student achievement.

Although the new evaluation systems will serve to improve the assessment process, reports indicate that teachers are frustrated (e.g., Heitin, 2011).  In Tennessee, for example, teachers do not fully comprehend the new observational rubrics that are integrated in their new evaluation system, and the multiple observational visits for each teacher are incredibly cumbersome for principals (Heitin, 2011).  The increased time invested in evaluation processes causes school leaders to feel overwhelmed (Heitin, 2011).  Furthermore, according to a study conducted by Weisberg, Sexton, Mulhern, and Keeling (2009), only 43% of teachers in 12 districts from Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Illinois agree their current evaluation systems foster pedagogical improvement.

Although extensive research regarding the new teacher evaluation systems has been conducted in several states, little is known about the impact of the new teacher evaluation requirements in the state of Florida (Weisberg et al., 2009).  In Florida, the 2012-2013 school year brought about many changes to teacher and principle evaluation with the full implementation of new policies (Shakman et al., 2012). Although many other states have not included value-added models of evaluation, they have been included in Florida evaluation systems (Shakman et al., 2012).  In addition, although school districts in other states have taken and modified parts of evaluation systems from other states, each county in Florida adopted a specific teacher evaluation model.  Subsequently, while some of Florida’s 67 school districts have chosen to model their teacher evaluation systems on Charlotte Danielson’s framework for teaching, other Florida districts have selected Robert Marzano’s model of effective teaching, and one district has chosen the Jerry Copeland model of evaluation (Shakman et al., 2012).

Despite school board pressures, teacher union pressures, and teacher and principal conflicts, concluded negotiations resulted in the inclusion of Danielson’s (2007) framework for teaching into the former evaluation system (Shakman et al., 2012). Danielson (2007) focuses on the following areas of effective teaching practices: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Claiming that teacher pay should not be tied to the evaluation system, the model specifically focuses on improving professional practice through her framework of teaching.  Unlike Danielson’s (2007) model, Marzano’s (2011) teacher evaluation model consists of four domains: classroom strategies and behaviors, preparing and planning, reflecting and teaching, and collegiality and professionalism.  Copeland’s (Learning Sciences International, 2012) model is a local model that includes focus on the notions that evaluation data should come from a variety of sources and evaluations should be of good quality, are cost effective, and are completed only after the teacher has had input into the process.

After adoption of an evaluation model, Florida school districts were expected to execute the system of evaluation; however, the implementation of the first school year’s new teacher evaluation systems requires a systematic assessment to test for its efficacy and validity. Until this new evaluation system has been assessed, the system of teacher evaluation is not entirely complete.  Appraising new evaluation systems ensures that adaptations can be discerned and implemented successfully throughout the following school years. The intuitive starting point for this appraisal, then, should begin at the highest level of the school district, the superintendents.  For these reasons, the purpose of this study is to obtain and assess Florida superintendents’ opinions regarding the changes made to the teacher evaluation system under the newly implemented RttT.

Methodology

Participants

The state of Florida includes 67 school districts, of which 41 superintendents are elected, and 26 are appointed (Florida Department of Education (FDOE, 2012). Superintendents from each of the 67 school districts in Florida were selected to participate in this study.  Of the 10 superintendents who gave their informed consent to use their survey results, only 9 participants’ surveys were used; one survey was started, but never completed and was thus removed from the results.

Materials

The Superintendent Perceptions of New Teacher Evaluation Systems survey consisted of 15 closed and open ended questions, including demographic questions, and superintendent perceptions relative to the implementation of the new teacher appraisal system.  The demographic questions included age, gender, education level, teaching and principal experience, teacher evaluation system model, and school district size.  Survey items included issues of a) satisfaction with the quality of training for the new teacher evaluation system, b) confidence in the effective overall use of the teacher evaluation system and c) modifications in the teacher evaluation system. Satisfaction questions were assessed using the following anchors on a 5 point Likert scale: extremely dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, not sure, somewhat satisfied, and extremely satisfied.  In addition, confidence questions included anchors based on the following 3 -point Likert scale: extremely confident, somewhat confident, and not at all confident.  Open ended questions allowed superintendents to discuss modifications in the teacher evaluation system and evidence of teacher reflection on the new evaluation system.  The survey questions were developed using Danielson’s (2007) and Marzano’s (2011) models for teacher evaluation systems.

Procedure

Florida superintendents’ names and email addresses were obtained from the Florida Department of Education website (FDOE, 2012). Each superintendent received an e-mail which included the informed consent information and a link to the new teacher evaluation system questionnaire in Survey Monkey™.  The superintendents were invited to participate in the study by reading and completing the survey within 2 weeks of receipt of the survey. Informed consent information was included in both the email and the questionnaire. Participation was voluntary, and the superintendents were informed their responses were not affiliated with their names; thus, their anonymity was assured.  Moreover, the respondents were informed they could withdraw from the study at any time.

The results were collected via transfer from the Survey Monkey™ database to a Statistical Package for the Social Sciences database.  Data were evaluated using descriptive statistics; the 13% return rate from the superintendent population provide an interesting and timely snapshot of superintendent perceptions of Florida’s new teacher evaluation systems.  Moreover, since perceptions regarding the initial implementation of RttT in Florida can no longer be gathered, this study provides valuable information to both researcher and practitioners.

Results

Respondent Demographics

Nine Florida school district superintendents completed the survey, representing the northern, central, and southern regions of Florida. Eighty eight percent of the respondents to this survey were men, a slightly higher return rate for male superintendents, as 73% of the Florida school district superintendents are men.  All respondents were 46 years of age or older, and all respondents held advanced degrees, 44%of whom held doctoral degrees. Thirty three percent of the respondents were appointed to their positions as superintendent; similarly, 39% of Florida’s school district superintendents are appointed positions. All respondents reported having K-12 teaching experience, while 78% of these superintendents also had administrative experience as principals.

Evaluation Model Choice

When assessing the type of teacher evaluation model choice, all respondents specified which evaluation model was adopted by their district.  Of the 9 respondents, 5 (56%) of the superintendents indicated their districts were using Danielson’s (2007) model, while 3 (33%) noted Marzano’s (2011) model.  Finally, among the respondents, the Copeland model was identified as being used by 1 (11%) Florida school district.

Evaluation Tool Training Satisfaction

Superintendents were asked to indicate their level of satisfaction regarding several aspects of the new teacher evaluation training and preparation.  When asked to specify their satisfaction levels regarding the quality of training they received on the new teacher evaluation tool established for their districts, all respondents indicated they were extremely or somewhat satisfied.  Furthermore, all superintendents noted they were somewhat or extremely satisfied when asked to specify the quality of training their principals and teachers received on the new teacher evaluation system implemented in their district.

Evaluation Tool Confidence

The confidence section of the survey intended to describe: a) proficiency levels of principals in observing and evaluating teachers using the new systems, b) improvements in student learning, c) improvements in teacher performance, and d) improvements in teacher reflection.  All superintendents responded they were extremely confident (45%) or somewhat confident in the proficiency of their principals in objectively observing and evaluating teachers in their districts.  Superintendents were either extremely (45%) or somewhat confident in the ability of the new teacher evaluation systems to result in improved student learning across their districts. Furthermore, 67% of respondents noted they were extremely confident, while the remaining superintendents indicated they were somewhat confident the new teacher evaluation systems would result in overall improved teacher performance. Finally, 78% of superintendents were extremely confident the new teacher evaluation system would promote increased and improved teachers’ pedagogical reflection. The remaining 22% of respondents were somewhat confident the new teacher evaluation system would have a positive influence on teachers’ pedagogical reflection.

Importantly, several respondents provided additional comments suggesting they have received evidence of teacher reflection about the new evaluation process through feedback systems provided to teachers and administrators.  Teacher reflections have been also been captured electronically in the online system and through e-mails.  In addition, evidence of teacher of reflection has been reported to superintendents through face-to-face interaction, during lesson plan modifications, during teachers’ post conferences with administrators and during the end of their Professional Growth Plan evaluations for the upcoming school year.

Desired Modifications to the Existing Evaluation System

Since the teacher evaluation systems are newly implemented for this school year, we were interested in learning what aspects of the new evaluation systems might be considered for modification. Toward this objective, respondents were asked, “Based upon the initial use of the teacher evaluation system, are you planning to make modifications for the upcoming school year?” Only 1 respondent indicated that no modifications would be made in the new teacher evaluation system, while the remaining 8 colleagues indicated they desired to make modifications in the teacher evaluation system.  These 8 respondents were then asked to indicate the type of modifications they would recommend to the current evaluation system.  Thirty-seven percent of the respondents indicated a desire to modify the rubric or observation tool; toward this specific goal, 75% of the superintendents indicated their districts’ teachers will receive additional training. Also of the 8 responding superintendents, 88% indicated their districts’ principals will receive additional training in conferencing and giving feedback to teachers, while 75% of the respondents noted their districts’ principals will receive additional training in the observation tool.  One respondent wrote: “[The district] will be offering online [professional development] that has a variety of courses principals and teachers can use to deepen their knowledge of the Danielson framework.”

Discussion and Conclusions

The findings from this survey, while descriptive, showcase an interesting dichotomy between what these Florida superintendents are saying about the new teacher and principal evaluation systems and how they “scored” their perceptions of their confidence and satisfaction in the new teacher evaluation systems adopted by their respective districts.  In all, the Likert scale findings showed no scores below “somewhat confident” and “somewhat satisfied”.  The superintendents’ open ended responses, however, showcased different attitudes about the new teacher evaluation systems. Perhaps it can be said that, of this specific group of Florida superintendents, they are generally satisfied and confident in their districts’ forward movement toward improved teacher evaluation systems, yet there perceptions are there remain necessary modifications and revisions to continue to improve the validity and reliability of the teacher evaluation process.

Given the new mandates from the Federal government (FDOE, 2012), changes in the way teacher effectiveness is evaluated in Florida are inevitable and transitioning to the new changes impact both teacher and student success.  A transition into the new teacher evaluation system can be challenge for educators and administrators (Danielson, 2007).  However, working to ensure there is communication and trust between teachers and administrators helps teachers be more willing to make improvements and offer suggestions for the benefit of their own professional development (Hull, 20123).  Although some teachers are uncomfortable with administrators entering their classrooms unannounced, principals should make clear the need for this process as one strategy toward improving teacher performance and student achievement. Ideally these improvements, for the sake of academic success, would override teachers’ fears and concerns.   Because teaching practices are an important aspect of the overall teacher evaluation system, supervisor observations must be conducted so that improvements in both pedagogy and best practice can be achieved; thus, teachers are no longer allowed to teach without the supervision, guidance, and review of administrators.

The fear of transitioning into a new evaluation system should also be successfully negated by providing the proper skills, through ongoing, targeted training and professional development. Training is key to ensuring appropriate changes to current practices are made.  According to the results of this survey, all superintendents were either “somewhat” or “extremely satisfied” with the training both they and their principals had received with the new teacher evaluation systems.  In order to maximize effectiveness in classrooms, principals must identify the unique needs of each teacher and then deliver the professional development and support needed (The New Teacher Project, 2013).  Through formal and informal teacher observations and through beneficial discourse regarding teaching practices, principals will be better equipped to provide teachers the essential tools that will allow them to become more effective in the classroom.

Both the information communicated and the means of communication are equally important (Hull, 2013).  However, since teachers and principals are stakeholders, personal best interests can become problematic issues.  Social aspects of opposing groups must be examined, and conflicting aspirations should be considered and reconciled (Baldridge, 1971).  Because conflict is inevitable in the institutional setting, minimizing its detrimental effects on relationships is the primary goal (Baldridge, 1971).  A comfortable setting in the school must be nurtured so that all voices can be openly shared and embraced.

In addition to indicating satisfaction towards the training sessions, with a majority response of “extremely confident,” on the survey instrument, it is assuring that the new teacher evaluation system shows evidence for improving teacher reflection on the lessons they are teaching. In addition, the majority of surveyed superintendents indicated they were “extremely confident” their new evaluation system would result in improved student learning and teacher performance.  It is important that performance evaluations are successfully helping teachers identify their strengths (Almy, 2011), because teacher evaluation systems have the potential to help teachers grow and to help students achieve (Doherty, 2009).  Furthermore, it is also important to obtain positive feedback from teachers regarding the new evaluation system.  This promotes a comfortable environment, where teachers are more open and willing to embrace new changes.

In the workplace (particularly in schools), trust is instrumental (Covey & Merrill, 2008).  Building relationships based on trust between superintendents, principals, and teachers should be the overriding and pervasive theme in ensuring success.  Improving trust between superintendents, principals, and teachers, Baldridge’s (1971) policies can be applied to the new teacher evaluation methods.  Policy formation is the culminating result of the following three stages: entering and reconciling conflict, legal action, and the commitment of school districts to a set of values (Baldridge, 1971).  Moreover, applying Stephen Covey’s (1990) seven habits of highly effective people, superintendents must begin with a vision of the desired end result.  The successful transition into new teacher evaluation methods involves the careful planning of each step to ensure not only effective evaluation, but stakeholder “buy in” to the new system.

Furthermore, the majority of the superintendents surveyed claimed a desire to make changes to the current evaluation system.  This finding shows that “evaluating the system” is an essential component of designing a new evaluation system (Goe, 2011).   Obtaining superintendent input about training and best practices will require modifications, in order to make consistently and accurately work toward best practices in teacher evaluation.

The data collected in this study provide valuable information about the revolution of teacher and principal evaluation in the 21st century and are, therefore, important to consider.  Although this project represents more of a descriptive case study, data of this nature has import for school districts across the country. To continue to test and evaluate the effectiveness of the RttT innovations, data regarding the new principal and teacher evaluation systems must routinely be collected and updated.  Teacher, principal, and superintendent assessments, after another academic year, would be beneficial in evaluating the overall effectiveness of the evaluation changes adopted in Florida.  Furthermore, expanding insights from other states regarding the new teacher and principal evaluation practices would also provide a more comprehensive view of the role of federal RttT initiatives. In all, since superintendents are tasked with overseeing the effectiveness of new initiatives, it is imperative they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the new teacher and principal evaluation models adopted by districts across the United States.  As results of this study indicate, this group of superintendents feel the new evaluation systems will increase student achievement by improving teacher effectiveness. While it is the superintendent’s task is to ensure their districts’ evaluation processes are working effectively and to suggest modifications for the following year, ongoing, sustained research on this timely and important aspect of our education system is necessary to continue to fine tune these new and intricate evaluation processes.

References

Baldridge, J. V. (1971).  Academic governance: Research on institutional politics and decision making. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Covey, S. M. R. (1990). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York, NY: Fireside Book.

Covey, S. M. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2008). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. New York, NY: Free Press.

Curtis, R., & Wiener, R. (2012, January). Means to an end: A guide to developing teacher evaluation systems that support growth and development. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute. Retrieved from http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/pubs/Means_To_An_End.pdf

Danielson, C. (2007).  Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching.  Alexandria,

VA:  Association for Supervision of Curriculum and Development.

Danielson, C. (2011).  The framework for teaching evaluation instrument.  Princeton, NJ: The Danielson Group.

Doherty, J. F. (2009). Perceptions of teacher and administrators in a Massachusetts suburban school district regarding the implementation of a standards-based teacher evaluation system. (Doctoral dissertation).  Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation & Theses.  (Accession Order No. AAT 3431766)

Florida Department of Education. (2012). School districts superintendents. Retrieved from http://www.fldoe.org/eias/flmove/supers.asp.

Goe, L., Holdheide, L., & Miller, T. (2011, May). A practical guide to designing comprehensive teacher evaluation systems: A tool to assist in the development of teacher evaluation systems. Washington, DC: National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality.  Retrieved from http://www.tqsource.org/publications/practicalGuideEvalSystems.pdf

Heitin, L. (2011, October 19). Evaluation system weighing down Tennessee teachers: Glitches in implementation could hurt other efforts. Education Week31(8),pp. 1, 14. .

Herman, J. L., Heritage, M., and Goldschmidt, P. (2011).  Developing and selecting assessments of student growth for use in teacher evaluation systems.  Assessment and Accountability Comprehensive Center.  Los Angeles, CA: University of California, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).

Marzano, R. J. (2011, August).  The Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model.  Retrieved from http://pages.solution-tree.com/rs/solutiontree/images/MarzanoTeacherEvaluationModel.pdf

McGuinn, P.  (2012). Stimulating reform: Race to the Top, competitive grants, and the Obama education agenda.  Educational Policy, 26(1), 136-159.

Reform Support Network. (2013). Race to the top at a glance. Evaluations of teacher effectiveness: State requirements for classroom observations. Retrieved November 1, 2013 from http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/implementation-support-unit/tech-assist/evaluations-teacher-effectiveness.pdf

Shakman, K., Riordan, J., & Sánchez, M. T., DeMeo Cook, K., Fournier, R., & Brett, J. (2012). An examination of performance-based teacher evaluation systems in five states. (Issues & Answers Report, REL2012-No. 129).  Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences,National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Education Laboratory Northeast and Islands.  Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/northeast/pdf/REL_2012129.pdf

The New Teacher Project. (2013). Teacher evaluation 2.0. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from http://tntp.org/assets/documents/Teacher-Evaluation-Oct10F.pdf?files/Teacher-Evaluation-Oct10F.pdf

Hull, J. (2013). Trends in teacher evaluation: How states are measuring teacher performance. National School Boards Association Center for Public Education. Retrieved November 01, 2013 from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Evaluating-performance/Trends-in-Teacher-Evaluation-At-A-Glance/Trends-in-Teacher-Evaluation-Full-Report-PDF.pdf

U.S. Department of Education. (2009, November).  Race to the Top program executive Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.  Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html

Weisberg, D., Sexton, S., Mulhern, J., & Keeling, D.  (2009).  The widget effect: Our national failure to acknowledge and act on differences in teacher effectiveness.  Retrieved from http://www.edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/Fair_To_Everyone_0.pdf

Appendix

Table 1

Superintendent Perceptions of New Teacher Evaluation Systems

Demographics

Gender

Female

Male

No.

1

8

Age

46 to 50

51 to 55

56 to 60

61 to 65

1

1

4

3

Education

Master’s

Doctorate

5

4

Attained position

Appointed

Elected

3

6

Years of experience as a

teacher

1 to 5

6 to 10

11 to 15

More than 15

1

5

2

1

Years of experience as a

principal

0

1 to 5

6 to 10

11 to 15

More than 15

2

1

5

2

1

Years of experience as a

superintendent

1 to 5

6 to 10

11 to 15

More than 15

5

1

0

3

Number of schools in

district

Up to 20

21 to 40

41 to 60

More than 60

4

2

1

2

About the Author

Author

Dr. Sherri Zimmerman

Sherri Zimmerman, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of West Florida. She has experience as both a building and district administrator and has been researching the topic of teacher evaluation since 1999.