The controversy over basing teacher evaluations on student performance now moves to a courtroom in Florida after teachers there filed suit today contending the review process violates their rights.
Filed in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District, the lawsuit targets a new evaluation system that tries to measure how much value a teacher has added to a student’s learning — even when there are no direct test scores to weigh.
(Seventy percent of teachers in Georgia teach in non-tested areas; the state intends to use a portfolio model, which will look at student demonstrated proficiency in such areas as music, foreign languages and art.)
The lawsuit maintains that evaluating teachers on the test scores of students they don’t teach or from subjects they don’t teach violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The lawsuit summary states:
The majority of teachers in Florida are being evaluated in the same arbitrary and irrational manner under the mandates of SB 736, passed in 2011. That statute, as administered by the Florida Commissioner of Education and the Florida Department of Education, requires that a significant proportion of the annual evaluation of every teacher and instructional employee in Florida be based on the following growth formula that was developed only to measure student growth on the FCAT Reading and Math tests:
Because the FCAT Reading and Math tests are given, respectively, only to third through tenth graders and third through eighth graders, the formula produces student growth scores only for FCAT reading in grades 4-10 and FCAT math in grades 4-8. Most teachers in Florida do not teach English/Language Arts or Mathematics in those grades.
Rather, the majority of teachers are kindergarten through third grade teachers like Plaintiff Cook, special education teachers like Plaintiffs King and Howard, advanced math teachers like Plaintiff Paedae, art and music teachers like Plaintiffs Jefferis and McConnell, and health, physical education, foreign languages, social studies and science teachers like Plaintiffs Brooks, Plavac and Boehme.
Among the Florida teachers suing is first-grade teacher Kim Cook, her school’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. The lawsuit alleges that Cook was labeled “unsatisfactory” because of the performance of fourth and fifth graders in a different school.
Cook’s school, Irby Elementary School in Alachua, only goes through second grade so her district relied on scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test from older students who attend Alachua Elementary School. But here’s the disconnect: Cook has only been at her K-2 school for two years, so she never taught the older students whose scores influenced her evaluation.
The Florida Education Association and the National Education Association is assisting Cook and six other educators in their lawsuit against the Florida Commissioner of Education, the Florida Board of Education and the school boards in their counties.
The culprit, according to the lawsuit, is Florida’s Senate Bill 736, which was passed last spring.
According to the state legislative summary, SB 736 “revises the evaluation, compensation, and employment practices for classroom teachers, other instructional personnel, and school administrators to refocus the education system on what is best for students. ”
In 2011, Florida lawmakers passed a measure overhauling teacher evaluations. The law requires all teachers to be judged in part on the progress of their students. This growth formula was developed for teachers in those subjects in which the state administers standardized tests: grades 4-8 in math and 4-10 in reading.
But because only a fraction of teachers are teaching in those subjects, the suit contends, districts, with state approval, have essentially fudged the formula for other teachers — for example, by using a schoolwide growth score for such teachers, or by rating them based on scores on a test in another subject only tangentially related to their field, if at all.
A bill pending in the Florida legislature would require teachers to be evaluated only on the progress of their own students, but FEA officials said it is not sufficiently detailed enough.
The current evaluation system for classroom teachers, other instructional personnel, and school administrators relies on a completely subjective review and does not sufficiently, if at all, take the performance of students into consideration in determining the effectiveness of instructional staff and school leaders. The bill revises the evaluation system to focus on student performance.
For instructional personnel who are not classroom teachers, a school district may include specific job-performance expectations related to student support and use growth data and other measurable student outcomes specific to the individual’s assignment, as long as the growth accounts for at least 30 percent of the evaluation.
The bill reinforces Race to the Top, which requires 50 percent of the evaluation for classroom teachers and other instructional personnel to be based on student performance for students assigned to them over a 3-year period. The bill specifies that 50 percent of a school administrator’s evaluation is based upon the performance of the students assigned to the school over a 3-year period.
If less than 3 years of student growth data is available for an evaluation, the district must include the years for which data is available and may reduce the percentage of the evaluation based on student growth to not less than 40 percent for classroom teachers and school administrators and not less than 20 percent for other instructional personnel.
School districts are required to measure student learning growth based on the performance of students on the state-required assessments for classroom teachers, other instructional personnel, and school administrator evaluations. School districts would be required to use the state’s learning growth model for FCAT-related courses beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. School districts must use comparable measures of student growth for other grades and subjects with the department’s assistance, if needed. Additionally, districts would be permitted to request alternatives to the growth measure if justified.
The remainder of a classroom teacher’s evaluation is based on instructional practice and professional responsibilities. School districts may use peer review as part of the evaluation. The evaluation system must differentiate among four levels: highly effective; effective; needs improvement or, for instructional personnel in the first three years of employment who need improvement, developing; and unsatisfactory. The Commissioner of Education would be required to consult with instructional personnel, school administrators, education stakeholders, and experts in developing the performance levels for the evaluation system.
For instructional personnel who are not classroom teachers, the remainder of the evaluation would consist of instructional practice and professional responsibilities, and may include specific job expectations related to student support.
The remainder of a school administrator’s evaluation would include the recruitment and retention of effective or highly effective teachers, improvement in the percentage of classroom teachers evaluated at the effective or highly effective level, other leadership practices that result in improved student outcomes, and professional responsibilities.
School districts, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, must administer local assessments that are aligned to the standards and measure student mastery of the content. The school district can use statewide assessments, other standardized assessments, industry certification examinations, or district-developed or selected end-of-course assessments.
Until July 1, 2015, a district that has not implemented an assessment for a course or has not adopted a comparable measure of student growth may use two alternative growth measures to determine a classroom teacher’s student performance: student growth on statewide assessments or measurable learning targets in the school improvement plan. Additionally, a district school superintendent may assign to an instructional team, the student learning growth of the team’s students on statewide assessments.
The bill requires newly hired teachers to be evaluated at least twice in the first year of teaching.
The current salary system is divorced from the effectiveness of the classroom teacher, other instructional personnel, or school administrators. Instead, salary decisions are made on the basis of longevity. The bill comports with Race to the Top by tying the most significant gains in salary to effectiveness demonstrated under the evaluation.
Beginning with instructional personnel or school administrators hired on or after July 1, 2014, the evaluation will determine an individual’s eligibility for a salary increase. The salaries of quality teachers, other instructional personnel, and school administrators would grow more quickly, while those of poor performing employees would not.
The new salary schedule would require a base salary schedule for classroom teachers, other instructional personnel, and school administrators with the following salary increases:
An employee who is highly effective, as determined by his or her evaluation, would receive a salary increase that must be greater than the highest annual salary adjustment available to that individual through any other salary schedule adopted by the school district. An employee who is effective, as determined by his or her evaluation, would receive a salary increase between 50 and 75 percent of the annual salary increase provided to a highly effective employee. An employee under any other performance rating would not be eligible for a salary increase.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog