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The FCAT pay plan

In their obsession with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, state bureaucrats have now elevated it from high stakes to sweepstakes. Education Commissioner John Winn will play the role of Ed McMahon, knocking on teachers' doors to award $2,000 bonuses for the winning student test scores.

This all borders on farce, except that Winn and Gov. Jeb Bush's Board of Education have now adopted it by administrative fiat. Any teacher whose students take the FCAT will be assessed by Winn, who will then give 5 percent pay bonuses to the top 10 percent. Show up late to work? Miss the last month of school? Duck out on faculty meetings? Refuse to return parents' phone calls? Won't matter. As long as the students improve by the appropriate margin on the FCAT, Winn will offer the reward.

Whether Winn and the Education Board have the legal authority to adopt such sweeping education reform is dubious and already under administrative appeal. But the 11 minutes the board devoted to discussing the topic certainly showed it has the audacity. Winn and board chairman Phil Handy were not content merely to ignore the warnings of teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards. Handy questioned their motivations, characterizing offers of help as attempts to "subvert" the plan. Winn harkened to "the early days of the A

+ Plan" as if to suggest educators' objections offer confirmation he is on the right track.

Call this education reform by the chip on the shoulder. It won't easily produce the teaching incentives Winn says he is seeking. If teachers are to be motivated by pay bonuses, they will need to see a clear connection to how they perform. Improved standardized test scores are certainly one important measure, but they can't be the only one. In fact, the Department of Education says only 31 percent of all teachers teach students who take the FCAT. Imagine the elementary school where a second-grade teacher, whose students don't take the FCAT, is being judged by a different standard than the third-grade teacher, whose students do. How will they feel?

Worse, Winn hinted he may require districts to come up with tests similar to the FCAT to judge the other 69 percent of teachers. (He called it "a work in progress.") Should tests be created solely for teacher bonuses? A test for art, physical education, kindergarten students? Is this rational?

Lawmakers never gave DOE the authority to throw away existing performance pay plans that were working, to create its own statewide bonus pay plan for teachers and to demand a whole new generation of standardized tests. If lawmakers want a pay plan that genuinely rewards teacher performance, they should be asking the advice of teachers and principals and superintendents in their districts. Despite what DOE may believe, educators are not the enemy.