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Teachers sue to block Florida teacher evaluation system

Good news seems to be rising out of the ongoing outrage. The seven teachers are the plaintiffs, along with the Florida NEA. Here's NEA description.

Reader Comment: I donated to TAMSA -- Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessments a few days ago, and contacted public officials to request that they support HB5 to reduce our state testing requirements. We have to keep fighting this on a state by state basis.

NOTE: The story received brief mention in The New York Times on April 17.

by Teacher Ken

As of this morning, a group of seven Florida teachers from three counties filed suit against the Florida Commissioner of Education, the Florida Board of Education and the school boards of those three counties -- Alachua, Hernando and Escambia. The lawsuit was filed in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Florida, Gainesville Division today.

Perhaps the lawsuit can be explained by looking at plaintiff Kim Cook, first grade teacher at W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua County. SHe holds a Master's Degree in Multilingual and Multicultural Education, plays a leading role both within her school and the greater community in spreading best teaching practices for teaching English to speakers of other languages, and was selected as her school's Teacher of the Year in 2012-13.

But consider that in 2011-2012 40% of her evaluation was based on FCAT (Florida state tests) reading tests of 4th and 5th graders at Alachua County Elementary School, where she does not teach, whom she has never taught, whom she has never even met. She is scheduled to be similarly evaluated this year. Oh, and by the way? Even though her school considered her their teacher of the year, because of the requirements of the Florida law, SB 736, her official evaluation was that her performance was "unsatisfactory." Under that law, teachers rated unsatisfactory (the lowest of the four performance ratings under the law) two consecutive years or two out of three years in a row are subject to termination or non-renewal. Transfers, promotions and layoffs are based on the assigned performance rating. And, as of July 1, 2014, salaries will be based on the assigned performance rating as well.

Or perhaps we can look at Bethann Brooks, a health science teacher at Central High School in Hernando County, who is also a registered nurse and who teaches tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders in courses designed to prepare them to work as nursing assistants, medical administrative assistants and in similar fields. She was selected as both her school's and Hernando County's Teacher of the Year in 2012-13. 51% of her 2011-2012 evaluation was based on reading scores of all ninth and tenth graders at Central High School, most of whom she does not teach. Obviously the few she teaches her instruction is NOT in reading, but in health science subjects not assessed by the test. she is again schedule to be evaluated in that fashion for the current school year.

The other 5 plaintiffs have similar stories.

All 7 allege that they are being treated in an arbitrary, irrational and unfair fashion in being evaluated for both last year and this year with significant (40% or more) of their evaluations based on the standardized test performance of students they do not teach, or from subjects they do not teach.

The lawsuit contends that teachers' evaluations based on the test scores of students they do not teach or based on subjects they do no teach violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The 7 are all outstanding teachers, which is why they have been selected as the defendants for this case, which will be discussed later today in press conference organized jointly by the National Education Association and its Florida affiliate the Florida Education Association, which are also parties to the suit.

Please keep reading.

Florida is not alone in having laws evaluating teachers on the basis of test scores of students. States which received funding under Race to the Top were as one requirement of receipt of the funds distributed as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (the stimulus) to base a significant portion of teacher evaluation upon the assessment performance of students.

The problem of course is that states do not have examinations in all subjects. How then does one evaluate teachers of courses lacking such examinations? What Florida has chosen - using examinations in other subjects -- is an approach that is not uncommon. The rationale is supposed to be that all teachers contribute to the student performance on reading and/or on math, which are considered in this approach to be the foundational skills for education.

Yet even if that is so, how can one evaluate teachers on scores of students they have not taught, whose may not even attend the same school?

Florida uses an assessment of student "growth" on two tests, the FCATs in math and reading. Math is given in grades 4-8 and reading in 4-10. But as the law suit points out, the majority of teachers in Florida instruct in K-3, before testing is done; in advanced topics in math in grades 9-12 or in literature in grades 11-12; in special education; or in subjects like art, music, physical education, health, foreign languages, social studies and science. None of these have their own tests. The 7 defendants thus are representative of the majority of teachers in Florida who are thus being evaluated by test scores for which it is hard to argue they bear responsibility, yet their livelihoods are being determined largely by such scores. They and the unions contend that this is unlawful and arbitrary. The teachers are therefore seeking an injunction against further implementation of this evaluation system.

Florida is an important place in which to bring such a suit. Besides being one of the largest states in the nation, it is also a focal point of where aspects of the "reform" system have been developed, largely because of the influence of former Governor Jeb Bush.

But one also notes that the United States Department of Education under the last two Presidents has been a strong supporter of the notion of evaluating teachers by the test performance of students, even though the professional organizations most involved with psychological measurement (of which school testing is a subset) -- The American Psychological Association, The American Educational Research Association, and the National Council of Measurement in Education - have been on record for some time with a joint statement which includes language about the appropriate use of tests -- they must be validated for the purposes for which they are being used.

That a test is designed to allow the drawing of valid references for one purpose does not mean it is valid for another. Thus a test designed to assess what a student knows and can do in a particular subject does not mean it allows drawing inferences about the impact of the teaching the student has received. This problem is not alleviated by the use of statistical measures such as value added methodologies or formulas such as that used in Florida.

If a test is designed to validly measure what a student knows and do in 4th grade Reading, that does not allow it to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the 4th grade Reading teacher. It has no connection to the effectiveness of the student's Art teacher, and obviously has no connection whatsoever to the performance of a teacher who did not teach that student. To use such scores is clearly arbitrary.

Nor do systems like Florida take into account the impact of parents who exercise their option to withhold their children from testing, which is something that is increasingly happening as more parents object to the arbitrariness of the testing regime that has been being implemented in recent years.

It is quite appropriate for Florida to be the site of this lawsuit. The state has been a key place for the implementation of aspects of the "reform" movement pushed by some foundations, think tanks and corporations, largely because of the continuing influence of former Governor Jeb Bush, who is also seeking to spread similar ideas across the nation.

Thus while this may be the first such lawsuit, it is unlikely to be the only one.

It is a further indication that the "reform" agenda will not go unchallenged.

Teachers are standing up to protect the educational interests of their students and the integrity of their profession.

Stay tuned as the struggle continues.

— Teacher Ken
Daily Kos





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