Friday, September 21, 2012

Florida's Rush for "Reform" Falters

Florida's merit pay law, SB 736 or the "Student Success Act," requires that 40-50% of teacher evaluations be based on student performance on standardized tests. Putting aside the fact that standardized tests were not designed to judge teacher effectiveness, Florida teachers are still waiting on results from the 2011-2012 school year. Yes, you read that correctly. Teachers still do not know the results of their evaluations from last school year. Add to this that several teachers will be judged based on school-wide FCAT performance because they do not teach tested subjects. That includes the kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers as well as elective teachers and other subjects such as social studies, foreign languages, etc. Districts are scrambling to create end of course exams to comply with the law, but there is uncertainty about whether districts have the funding to create these tests. In 2014, these tests will determine teacher pay. However, there does not appear to be any funding mechanisms in the works to provide "highly effective" teachers with raises. 

This column in the Tampa Bay Times explains all of the challenges Florida will face as it tries to implement this law.

The goals sound good: Pay teachers based on whether their students actually learn anything, and pay the best teachers more. But 18 months into a massive overhaul of how Florida will evaluate teachers so the best can earn more and the worst can be fired, school districts and state officials are still struggling to figure out exactly how to do it, much less pay for it. As Gov. Rick Scott launches a fresh campaign claiming to care as much about improving public education as Florida families do, he needs to offer more than lip service. He needs to commit to a long-term plan for finding the resources to honestly implement reforms already on the books.
Scott's statewide public school tour comes as most Florida schools still cannot tell parents how teachers performed last school year. Four weeks into the new school year, districts have been unable to complete teacher evaluations from 2011-12 due to the time it has taken the state Department of Education to establish student learning gains based on FCAT scores on a teacher-by-teacher basis. The data affect nearly every teacher evaluation under a 2011 law Scott signed that is entering its second year of implementation.
This is precisely the problem anticipated by critics when the 2011 Republican-controlled Legislature rammed through SB 736 without consulting the teachers union, establishing a reasonable time frame or providing more money.
The plan sets admirable goals of measuring how much each student learns in a year and rewarding teachers accordingly. But it glossed over the extraordinary infrastructure and funding needed to make it a reality. The upshot: Most school districts haven't had the time or money to develop or purchase the beginning and end-of-course assessments needed to determine exactly how much a student learns in a given course. So instead, students' performance on the problem-riddled FCAT will determine anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of a teacher's performance evaluation. And that formula is used even for those teachers whose students do not take an FCAT exam in their course. Teachers such as those teaching kindergarten through second grade, or of a non-FCAT subject like physical education or Spanish, could find their evaluation affected by the average FCAT score for their school. Those evaluations already determine performance bonuses in some districts. Starting in 2014-15, they will also determine who is eligible for raises — assuming districts actually have the money to give any raises.

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