Grading the teachers

Deana Burleson, a teacher, talks with Makala Marshall, 10, about her Walking Rainbow experiment at South Ocala Elementary School in this July file photo. The Marion County School Board is deciding how to evaluate teachers during a pandemic year. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Marion County schools struggle with how to evaluate teachers in an abnormal year

As testing and teacher evaluations loom in the distance, Marion County is struggling with how to hold teachers accountable while not penalizing them during a challenging school year. 

“We as a board have gone to the legislative delegation and specifically petitioned our legislators to say ‘Hold us harmless this year, if you make us do this testing, hold us harmless,’” school board member Allison Campbell said at last week’s meeting. “Yet our educators in Marion County are concerned that we’re not holding them harmless as a district, and frankly, that’s a little disconcerting to me.”

The county is having a difficult time balancing the challenges of teaching in-person during a pandemic and the need to see how students are progressing. 

“This has been the challenge for everyone this year, and we don’t need them to be penalized because of things that are beyond their control,” board member Eric Cummings said. “Our kids still got to be tested because we need to know where they are. We need to know exactly what we’re working with and how to work on those slides or those gaps that we talk about.”

However, what the school board has been saying rings hollow to the teachers. 

Mark Avery, president of the Marion Education Association, says that the district hasn’t lowered the scoring thresholds for teacher evaluations, meaning that the teachers are currently being evaluated as if it is a normal year. Avery says that the district hasn’t discussed lowering the scores with the teachers’ union. 

That has left teachers feeling as if the system isn’t being fair to them this year. 

“I know of a high school student who has been quarantined four times this year for two weeks every time, and that student has yet to test positive,” Avery said. “But what does that do for their educational system? How does that student get an education? And the teachers are doing the best they can, and they’re going to be held accountable based on how that student scores on a test. That’s going to be part of their evaluation.”

Avery says that teacher evaluations shouldn’t happen this year, but the school board repeatedly said last week that it doesn’t want to treat this year like a gap year. If teacher evaluations have to happen this year, Avery says they should change the local standard to either “effective” or “highly effective.”

“They’ve come to work during the pandemic and done the best job that they can in the situations given,” Avery said. “And there isn’t very many classrooms in this entire district that actually have the room to offer six feet of social distancing.”

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