Florida's controversial value-added teacher data are public record, according to a ruling released Tuesday by the 1st District Court of Appeal.
The Times-Union sued the state in February for the data's release. Tuesday's decision reverses a lower circuit court ruling in March, which concluded the data were exempt from public inspection.
According to state law a teacher's evaluation is not subject to disclosure under the public records law until a year following the school year in which the evaluation was given, but "it does not follow that any information or data used to prepare the evaluation is likewise exempt from disclosure," the appeal court ruled.
The value-added data is "only one part of a larger spectrum of criteria by which a public school teacher is evaluated; it is not, by itself, the 'employee evaluation,' " the court wrote.
"The appeal court agreed with us on the heart of the case - that these records belong to the public and are open for inspection," said Times-Union Editor Frank Denton. "We are gratified, on behalf of our readers."
Jennifer Mansfield, an attorney representing the newspaper, said the ruling was a win for transparency and for parents who want to review the data.
"More importantly it's going to provide the voting public the ability to evaluate the legislature's process for teacher review that it has set up," she said.
Value-added is the difference between the learning growth a student makes in a teacher's class and the statistically predicted learning growth the student should have earned based on previous performance.
The value-added calculation is half of a teacher's total evaluation. The other half comes from observations made by principals and other personnel.
The Times-Union asked the state's Department of Education on Tuesday when the data would be released to the paper. In response a spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the opinion and considering all options.
Andy Ford, president of The Florida Education Association, said he hoped the Times-Union and any other media outlets that publish the data underscore "how little meaning these numbers have in determining the quality of an individual teacher."
Ford's organization sided with the state and joined the suit to argue the data should be exempted. He called the value-added formula "deeply flawed."
"The evaluation data on teachers that is about to be made public is meaningless, which is why we joined in to enforce the public records exemption and prevent it from being published," said Ford in a statement. "The numbers to be released are subject to misinterpretation. They have not been put in their proper context."
The state has 15 days to pursue a rehearing and 30 days to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
The Times-Union requested the data in October 2012.
The state initially agreed to release the data in January, but about a week later did an about-face and decided to seek an Attorney General's Office opinion. In a Feb. 1 letter to the office, then-Education Commissioner Tony Bennett was advised by the state's general counsel that "current decisional law is likely to subject the VAM [value-added model] data to disclosure as public record."
Bennett went on in the letter to stress the importance of teachers.
"The department is therefore reluctant to take any action that undermines the efforts of our state's teachers," Bennett wrote.
State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, tried in April to codify in state law that the data were not public record. But her bill never got a Senate sponsor and died during the committee process.
Topher Sanders: (904) 359-4169
Source : http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2013-11-12/story/florida-teacher-value-added-data-public-record-appeal-court-rules