Florida teachers take flawed evaluation system to court

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Seven accomplished Florida teachers have joined with their unions in a federal lawsuit charging that the state's new evaluation system—which is based on the standardized test scores of students or subjects they do not teach—violates their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The teachers, who work in Alachua, Hernando and Escambia counties' public schools, brought suit in federal court against the Florida commissioner of education, the State Board of Education and the school boards of those three counties. The school systems have implemented high-stakes evaluations tied to the state's standardized student assessment, known as FCAT, in order to comply with SB 736. Under the law, teachers who are rated unsatisfactory for two consecutive years (or two out of three years in a row) are subject to termination or nonrenewal. Transfers, promotions and layoffs are based on the assigned performance rating. And, as of July 1, 2014, salaries will be based on the assigned performance rating as well.

"This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736," says Andy Ford, an AFT vice president and president of the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the AFT and the NEA. The FEA and the NEA jointly filed the federal lawsuit this month. "Teachers in Florida are being evaluated using a formula designed to measure learning gains in the FCAT math and reading tests. But most teachers, including the seven in this lawsuit, don't teach those subjects in the grades the test is administered. One of the teachers bringing this suit is getting evaluated on the test scores of students who aren't even in her school."

SB 736, the Tampa Bay Times recently observed, has succeeded only in undermining public confidence in public schools. "The law anticipated using student performance on end-of-course subject exams to inform 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Such exams don't yet exist for the vast majority of classes students take," the paper said. "But rather than delay implementation until such measurement tools could be designed, the Legislature said school districts could substitute results from the FCAT, even for the teachers—be it art, Spanish or kindergarten—whose classes are never part of FCAT testing." [Mike Rose]

April 17, 2013