Florida teachers: Did your school do well enough for you to get a bonus?

Lawmakers changed the criteria during their spring session.
Escambia County science teacher Carol Cleaver asks lawmakers to focus on pay raises rather than annual bonuses, as the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee discusses its budget proposal on March 20, 2019. [The Florida Channel]
Escambia County science teacher Carol Cleaver asks lawmakers to focus on pay raises rather than annual bonuses, as the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee discusses its budget proposal on March 20, 2019. [The Florida Channel]
Published July 23

In part to settle a lawsuit contending the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus was discriminatory, Florida legislators in the spring changed the eligibility criteria for future awards.

Gone was the reliance on SAT and ACT scores. In its place came the use of a school’s improvement in the state accountability points system used to determine school grades.

To get the extra money now, a teacher would have to work at least two consecutive years — including the current one — at a school that has increased its score by an average of 3 percentage points or more over the previous three years.

Teachers have tried to figure out exactly what that means ever since.

Related: Changes to Best and Brightest bonus will leave good teachers behind, critics say

Aiming to clarify the situation, the Department of Education recently released a two-page FAQ explaining how it plans to implement the latest incarnation of the rule. It looks to make it as easy as possible to meet the mark, within the new statutory restrictions.

To achieve the 3-point target that lawmakers established, the department set forth three possible calculations. If any of the three get a school to the place where it can offer teachers the $2,500 or $1,000 “retention” awards, that’s the one that will be used for that particular campus.

The methods are:

• Averaging growth over three school years [2019 (Year 3) – 2018 (Year 2) = A, 2018 (Year 2) – 2017 (Year 1) = B, 2017 (Year 1) – 2016 (Baseline Year) = C; (A+B+C)/3 >= 3]

• Averaging growth over three calendar years covering two school years [2019 (Year 3) – 2018 (Year 2) = A, 2018 (Year 2) – 2017 (Year 1) = B; (A+B)/2 >= 3], and

• Finding the difference in points between Year 1 and Year 3 [2019 (Year 3) – 2017 (Year 1) >= 3].

The growth numbers would be rounded, and those schools that meet or exceed the 3-point target would be eligible to give the added money to their teachers and principals. The awards are set in statute, but the department notes that schools would be allowed to pro-rate the amounts if the allocated funds are insufficient to provide bonuses to all certified recipients.

Schools that do not participate in the state grading system, and instead receive improvement ratings, would not be open to offer the bonuses.

Some observers have suggested that the new method will result in fewer awards. Teachers with “highly effective” evaluations at schools with overall low performance would not qualify for a retention bonus, unlike in past years, for example.

Teachers at high performing schools that do not have that 3-point shift also would not be eligible.

The state plans to release a list of schools where bonuses may be awarded after the school grade appeal process ends.

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