Ruth: Don't tie SAT scores to teacher pay

Incoming Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, listen to debate Tuesday on the floor of the House.
Incoming Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, listen to debate Tuesday on the floor of the House.
Published March 9, 2016

Do you ever get the sense there is a secret room in the state capitol where every morning legislators gather for a solemn ritual?

First, they don their sacred Bozo the Clown robes, followed by a rendition of the Three Stooges anthem Three Blind Mice, concluding with a ceremonial tossing of a custard pie.

And then Tallahassee's answer to Romper Room with a wet bar gets down to the serious business of trying to be even more half-witted than it was the day before. This is no simple task.

But they try, and that's the important thing.

A good example of the Florida Legislature achieving new lows of ineptitude can be found in a measure passed by both the House and the Senate to dole out bonuses to so-called "highly effective" teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores from a test educators took years before they started their job. It's called the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program, with $49 million to be doled out on the basis of a standard that has absolutely nothing to do with whether someone is a wonderful teacher. This is a bit like bestowing bonuses on police officers because they did a bang-up job as a 13-year-old elementary school crossing guard.

In order to benefit from the Legislature's parallel universe slush fund, a teacher must be tagged as "highly effective" and to have scored in the top 20 percent in the year they took the SAT/ACT while still in high school.

First year teachers in Florida public schools, who have yet to even undergo a classroom performance evaluation, can still qualify for the dubious bonus program based solely on their SAT/ACT scores.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Hogwarts, who is set to become House speaker after the fall elections, and Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Severus Snape, defended their "Best & Brightest" wizardry by arguing that dispensing bonus money to teachers predicated on a standard completely unrelated to anything having to with teaching skills will serve as a snazzy retention and recruitment tool to encourage high school students to consider education as a career.

Or take a career teacher who has consistently received rave performance reviews but could be denied a bonus because 20 years ago he or she was less than a stellar student and achieved only an average SAT/ACT score. No bonus. But a first year teacher who barely knows which side of an eraser to use will be eligible for the extra money because of test scores with no correlation to mastering the art of the classroom.

How effective is a "retention/recruitment tool" that penalizes a teacher for a test taken years before one might have ever considered education as a career and that ignores the value of actual classroom experience?

How many of us would want to link our prospects for a bonus, or a raise, or a promotion, to our SAT/ACT scores from years ago? All you show-off overachievers don't count.

What lawmakers didn't take into consideration or refused to acknowledge is that the SAT/ACT is not predictive of how that person will turn out later in life.

If Tallahassee truly wants to recruit and retain great teachers, a good place to start is by showing the profession some respect.

A 40-year-old teacher should not be victimized and discriminated against on the basis of a test taken more than 20 years earlier.

Isn't it a far better recruitment/retention strategy to pay teachers a competitive wage, offer opportunities for advancement, provide a school environment that is conducive to learning and stop cooking the books that unfairly evaluates their skills? Why not treat teachers like adults who perform a vital social service to the community?

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If lawmakers think it is a great idea to financially penalize teachers who long ago hardly set the SAT/ACT on fire, why not apply the same irrational standard of fitness for duty to Tallahassee?

Let's tie a member of the Florida Legislature's compensation to how well he or she scored on the SAT/ACT. And while we're at it, up the ante and require all lawmakers to take the state's standardized tests.

Think of the savings.

Some legislators might complain that basing their pay on irrelevant tests unrelated to their official duties is grossly unfair. Yeah. So?