The result of teachers receiving ''involuntary transfer'' is substitutes fill in, possibly for the entire school year.
LAKELAND — At the end of her second day of school this week, a local elementary teacher was told she'd no longer be teaching at that school.
Because at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, at a different school, she was given a “needs improvement” score based on a state evaluation known as the Value Added Model — or VAM. And although both schools received D ratings under the state's school-grading system, she received a “highly effective” rating from the Polk County Public Schools district this school year.
“[I] just cried and cried and cried — I have shed so many tears. It is beyond heartbreaking,” she said. The Ledger is not identifying her because of concerns for her job.
“I love that school — that's where I started teaching. I left once, but when I had the opportunity to go back ... I took it — knowing full well I wanted to make a difference. That was the whole point of going back there. I stayed way past my contract time every day.”
VAM scores are given for fourth grade through 10th grade English language arts, fourth grade through eighth grade math, and eighth grade and ninth grade Algebra 1. Teachers must have an effective or highly effective rating for three years in order to teach at a turnaround school. Other variants are factored into the score, including whether the student is disabled, an English language learner, gifted and attends school regularly. Students' socioeconomic status is not a factor, according to the Florida Department of Education's website.
Teachers across the state are dealing this week with what is called ''involuntary transfer'' after VAM scores were released Aug. 8.
And because of the statewide shortage of teachers, many positions are being filled with substitutes who, in some cases, could wind up teaching the class all year.
Polk County is currently short about 120 teachers.
Cheryl Etters, a spokesperson for FDOE, said the disparity in the district rating and the state evaluation comes from the way student scores are viewed.
"Keep in mind that VAM measures student learning growth, NOT assessment scores," Etters said in an email. "Also, highly effective from the district (the district defines these evaluation ratings), is NOT the same as the VAM score."
Another local elementary school teacher spent Aug. 9 removing decorations from the walls and bulletin boards she had put up in the previous weeks, box up all of her books, folders and supplies, and move all of her personal furniture and belongings out of her classroom to a nearby portable.
School Board member Billy Townsend spent the afternoon helping her move, he said.
“It's anti-child, anti-teacher — it's the stupidest rule in America,” Townsend said. “Our department of education is backward.”
Townsend said the situation is so ludicrous that the entire fifth grade at Griffin Elementary — a turnaround school that has received a D rating two years in a row — is now being taught completely by long-term substitutes. One of those substitutes taught at the school all last year and had the lowest Florida Standards Assessment scores of the fifth grade teachers.
All of this, Townsend said, is a purposely devised formula for failure by officials in Tallahassee in order to push parents to transfer their children — and the per-pupil funding that goes with them — to charter or private schools.
“In what universe is it better to have a substitute teaching a class than a certified teacher, regardless of their so-called VAM score?” Townsend asked. “Tallahassee doesn't care — they don't care about your kid. What they want is disruption because if they can disrupt, they can sell you some other grifts.”
Polk school district officials said 12 teachers at three schools are being transferred: Griffin Elementary and Philip O'Brien Elementary in Lakeland, and McLaughlin Middle School in Lake Wales.
“The FLDOE requires school districts to relocate teachers from consistently low-performing schools (as defined by their school grades) if the teachers' three-year VAM ratings do not meet a certain standard (anything less than “Effective” or “Highly Effective”),” district spokesman Kyle Kennedy said in a news release. “We regret any disruption these late staffing changes have caused for our students, teachers and schools, but we want to ensure our community that we are addressing the matter as quickly as possible, and remain focused on our goals for a successful school year.”
Kennedy said they are working to fill the positions with certified teachers.
Both Townsend and fellow School Board member Sarah Fortney, a 30-year teaching veteran, call it “The VAM Scam” and want it stopped, saying it punishes teachers who want to work with low-performing students to make a difference not just in their grades, but in their lives. VAM stopped being used as a factor in the district's evaluation after a wave of complaints from teachers.
Fortney posted a video of a teacher's belongings that had been transferred to a portable in the heat of Tuesday afternoon. The teacher and her family had spent two weeks setting up her original classroom.
“It's degrading to teachers and hurtful and unnecessary to kids,” Fortney said. “The state loves 'Test and Punish' and it's used against teachers at high poverty schools.”
Fortney said teachers who choose to teach at schools with a high number of impoverished students do so out of love and concern for the children and a desire to help them succeed. But it is difficult for those children's scores to improve dramatically when they are dealing with hunger, homelessness, violence inside and outside of where they live, along with adults with substance-abuse issues, parents who are incarcerated and a host of other issues. And that's before they even walk in the door at school. In fact, the first teacher said two girls had to deal with one or both of their parents dying, including a murder-suicide, last school year.
“The kids dealt with a lot of death last year — it was very challenging to get the kids focused and understand we have to move on,” she said. “The girls coming back — it was very hard for the girls.”
Now, she said, she will have to adjust to a new school, new co-workers and a new boss, adding that she loves her principal at her old school.
“It's mind-boggling to me that I set my entire classroom up, I had two days with my students, we were already learning,” she said. “Now I'm not even their teacher anymore. It saddens me unbelievably.”
Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.