Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Teachers mount legal challenge to new evaluation system

TALLAHASSEE — When the state began evaluating teachers based on student test scores last year, Bethann Brooks watched her performance rating slip from "highly effective" to "effective."

Brooks was baffled. She teaches health science to juniors and seniors at Central High in Brooksville. But her evaluation was based on reading test scores tallied on freshmen and sophomores.

"I don't even know any freshmen," Brooks said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Brooks and six other Florida teachers, with the help of the state and national teachers' unions, are suing state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and the state Board of Education for deploying what they consider to be an unfair evaluation system. They say the new procedures violate their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

In a statement, Bennett wrote that the new system would help Florida "recruit and retain quality teachers" and noted that lawmakers were considering improvements.

"We look forward to working with teachers, administrators and Florida families as we continue ensure a fair and appropriate assessment that best rewards the success of our great teachers," Bennett wrote.

Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who has long supported performance pay for teachers, said he was not surprised by the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court Tuesday.

"So the teachers' union filed a lawsuit saying they don't want to be evaluated based on student performance? I'm shocked. Shocked I say," he said facetiously.

However, Gaetz agreed that teachers shouldn't be evaluated based on children they never see.

Last year, Florida began evaluating its teachers using a "value-added" model, which uses two years of testing data to predict how a student will fare on standardized tests. If the student surpasses the benchmark, the teacher is considered to have added value. If the student falls short, the teacher has had a negative effect.

Beginning next year, the performance-based evaluations will be tied to salary increases and used to determine if a teacher is transferred to another school or terminated.

Teachers are quick to point out that only a fraction of classes culminate with a standardized test in reading or math, meaning most educators will be evaluated based on students they didn't teach, or in subject areas that fall outside of their lesson plans.

Brooks, for example, instructs only a handful of students who take standardized tests at the end of the year. So her evaluation used the schoolwide scores on the ninth- and 10th-grade reading tests.

Kim Cook, who teaches first-graders at W.W. Irby Elementary in Alachua, is in an even more unusual position. Since her school has only kindergarten, first grade and second grade — and children in those grade levels don't take standardized tests — Cook is being evaluated based on the test scores of third-graders at nearby Alachua Elementary.

"It's such a flawed system," said Cook, a 25-year veteran teacher who is also participating in the lawsuit.

The litigation is partly intended to put pressure on state lawmakers. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, have filed bills that would prevent teachers from being evaluated based on students they don't instruct. But the Flores version needs to be heard in two committees before it reaches the Senate floor, and the session is winding down.

Ron Meyer, an attorney for the state teachers' union, said their proposal is "not comprehensive enough" because it does not explicitly address how to evaluate teachers for whom there is no student testing data.

"What we suggest is, throw out the whole thing," Meyer said. "Start from scratch. Let school systems develop measures that evaluate teachers in a way that is understandable, transparent and fair."

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature is unlikely to toss its new teacher evaluation system. But Democrats like Sen. Bill Montford, a former school superintendent from Tallahassee, have pointed out that there is still time to tweak the procedures before performance pay kicks in next year.

In addition to the Board of Education, the lawsuit also names the Alachua, Escambia and Hernando school boards as defendants.

Hernando County Superintendent Bryan Blavatt hadn't heard about the lawsuit early Tuesday. But he expressed concerns that a lawsuit would end up costing the district in legal fees.

"If it's going to take money away from kids, I don't like it," Blavatt said.

He does, however, believe teachers have a valid issue with the new teacher evaluation system.

"I've said this from the beginning," he said. "I see this as a problem."

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Teachers mount legal challenge to new evaluation system 04/16/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: No more VinikVille as Water Street Tampa finally arrives


    Adios, VinikVille! Hello Water Street Tampa.

    An aerial rendering of the $3 billion redevelopment project that Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners plan on 50-plus acres around Amalie Arena.
[Rendering courtesy of Strategic Property Partners]
  2. Finally, Jeff Vinik's vision has a name: Water Street Tampa


    TAMPA — For years, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the real estate executives he employs have been dreaming how to transform 53 acres of downtown Tampa into a major hub of living, working and entertaining in the city's core.

    Strategic Property Partners announced the name of its new development: Water Street Tampa. This rendering shows the Tampa skyline with SPP's future buildings in place. [Photos courtesy of SPP]
  3. Future, Ruff Ryders reunion tour coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa


    Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre is in the midst of a killer summer of rock (Green Day, Muse, Linkin Park) and country (Sam Hunt, Lady Antebelleum, Dierks Bentley).

  4. Rubio remains noncommital on Obamacare replacement but a likely yes vote


    Sen. Marco Rubio has been bombarded with phone calls, emails and on Monday, protests took place outside his offices in Doral and Palm Beach Gardens. But while the effort is most unlikely to dissuade the Florida Republican from voting for the Obamacare replacement -- if it even comes up for a vote this week -- he remains …

    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks at an event in Miami, Friday, June 16, 2017, where President Donald Trump announced a revised Cuba policy aimed at stopping the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services while maintaining diplomatic relations.
  5. James Wilder Jr. back at running Canada


    Remember when former Plant High star and Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. announced he was switching to linebacker?

    That was short-lived, apparently.