2 Weeks for T-U Suit Ruling; No Decision before March 8 on Bid to Obtain Teacher Performance Data

Article excerpt

Byline: Topher Sanders

The judge hearing The Florida Times-Union's lawsuit to obtain the state's controversial value-added teacher performance data won't make a decision for at least two weeks.

Circuit Judge John Cooper of Leon County said Thursday he will rule after March 8 to give attorneys time to file additional arguments and responses on the impact of federal student privacy law in the case and on interpretations of how many years of data should be released, if any.

Value-added is the difference between the learning growth a student makes in a teacher's class and the statistical predicted learning growth the student should have earned based on previous performance. The state uses the most recent three years of data to develop a teacher's average value-added score.

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 requested the data in October and filed its lawsuit four months later after failing to get the records.

Florida law exempts teacher evaluations for one year from public inspection. The Times-Union's attorney argued that the value-added data is not the teacher's evaluation and is therefore not exempt from the public records law.

Since the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test data used to calculate value-added figures is public, and the formula for value-added is public, the result created when the state crunches the data for teachers should not be exempt, attorney Jennifer Mansfield said.

"That doesn't make any sense," she said.

The exception, Mansfield said, is not for "evaluation materials or materials used" to create the evaluation. She cited a case that referenced a law specifically exempting materials used in the evaluation process for university employees.

"So the Legislature obviously knows how to craft a statute to encompass all the materials used in an evaluation, but they didn't do that in this case," she said.

The state and union attorneys argued that all of the elements that make up an evaluation are exempt for a year.

"The final evaluation is a summary," said Jennifer Blohm, attorney for the teachers union. "Each component is an evaluation in and of itself, of different aspects of the teacher's performance."

They also argued that if the public can obtain the value-added data, then the public could obtain piecemeal the other components of the evaluation until the entire evaluation is in the public sphere. …