The battle over controversial teacher evaluations is headed to federal court.
On Tuesday, the National Education Association and the Florida Education Association filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida and three local school boards. It challenges the evaluation of teachers based on standardized test scores of students they don’t teach or based on subjects they don’t teach.
According to a NEA release, “teachers who are rated unsatisfactory (the lowest of the four performance ratings under the law) two consecutive years or two out of three years in a row are subject to termination or non-renewal.” In turn, teachers’ transfers, promotions, and layoffs are based on the rating. Starting July 1, 2014, salaries will be based on the assigned performance rating.
In 2011, legislators passed a bill in the Florida legislature, which was signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott, that teachers have said unfairly scores them. The lawsuit argues that the current evaluation system violates the equal protection and due process rights of teachers and other instructional employees.
“This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “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.”
Teacher evaluations are one of the most contentious issues in education today. No two educators seem to agree on the proper way to gauge teachers.
Mark Naison, professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, told TakePart, “The problem with teacher evaluations based on student test scores, especially the value-added model which tries to chart teacher evaluation based on yearly variation in student test scores, is that they are notoriously inaccurate.”
He speaks from experience. He said that his wife, the principal of a Brooklyn elementary school, was horrified when one of her best teachers ended up with one of the worst evaluations. So how exactly does something like this happen?
“Because students in her class experienced a statistically insignificant .1 percent decline in their ELA scores during their time with her, even though their average scores were both in the high 3s,” Naison said.
Four is the highest score possible. Naison said because of this type of system, many principals regard rating teachers especially on test scores as “junk science.” He said that evaluations often disregard out-of-class experiences that may affect test scores such as family crisis.
Throughout the United States, legislatures have passed various measures regarding evaluations.
In Arizona, lawmakers are currently considering a bill to make it easier to fire some low-performing teachers. Even perhaps more extreme and crazier, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that student standardized test scores have been linked to the evaluations of D.C. school custodians. Five former Teachers of the Year in Alaska recently wrote an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News opposing a decision “to base as much as 50 percent” of teacher evaluations on test scores.
The push back in Florida could signal the start of a widespread protest among educators.
“Seven accomplished educators in Florida are pushing back against one arbitrary, irrational and unfair evaluation system,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a release. “But they are supported by hundreds of thousands of educators across the country who are fed up with flawed evaluation systems being pushed by politicians and corporate education reformers in school districts across the country. As unthinkable as it might seem for a teacher to be evaluated on the performance of students they do not teach or subjects they do not teach—we know that it’s happening and not just in Florida.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com