Florida Times-Union Wins Legal Fight To Release State Teacher Scores

Feb 24, 2014

The Florida Times-Union won a major victory Monday in a year-long battle over the release of the state’s teacher scores.

The Florida Department of Education Wednesday morning released hundreds of thousands of scores measuring the effectiveness of state teachers through Florida’s controversial value-added model, or VAM.

VAM gauges teacher effectiveness through a complex formula measuring the difference between a students’ predicted performance on statewide assessments and their actual results.

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart
Credit Florida Department of Education

The Times-Union has been fighting the state department, along with the Florida Education Association, for the release of the data for over a year, arguing that the information is public record. Last February, the media outlet sued the state and association.

Monday morning, the state department issued a message to teachers stating that "releasing these data as a public record was not our chosen path to increase its usefulness.”

“We will make this an opportunity to improve communication and understanding about what these data can - and cannot - tell us,  and how they support better decision-making when analyzed in combination with other information about teaching and learning,” it reads.

In the message, the department said it would not post the information released to the Times-Union on its own site, but it has made a list of answers to frequently asked questions available to the public.

The Times-Union has posted the released VAM scores by school on its website.

Additionally, the Florida Education Association has sent out a list of talking points for union representatives in response to the release of the data. Those include the following:

  • The evaluation data on teachers that is about to be made public is meaningless, which is why FEA joined in to enforce the public records exemption and prevent it from being published. The numbers to be released are subject to misinterpretation. They have not been put in their proper context.
  • The numbers released by the DOE are subject to misinterpretation. They are mechanical calculations and have not been put in their proper context. The complex value-added statistical model is part of a highly complex accountability system. The Florida public is well aware of the ongoing problems with FCAT and school grades. The full accountability system must be examined and reimagined.
  • Research has shown that even the most sophisticated and valid VAM measurements are limited in what they can measure. But Florida’s VAM formula is not valid; it is deeply flawed in practice.

Florida Times-Union reporter Topher Sanders will be on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross tomorrow (2/25) to share more on the special report.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.