Legislators, teachers show uncertainty of new law evaluating Florida educators

By on April 2nd, 2013

In addition to the multimillion dollar changes Gov. Rick Scott has proposed to reform the state education system, the Florida Senate Committee on Education recently approved Senate Bill 980, which seeks to link teachers’ evaluations to the students they teach.

A fifth grade teacher teaches a math class.

Old Shoe Woman / Flickr

The way teachers are evaluated in Florida could soon change.

Nearly a week after the unanimous decision, Florida legislators and teachers are uncertain of the bill. SB 980 seeks to reform Florida’s current law on performance pay for teachers, which many consider to be “fatally flawed.”

One Florida senator said even though he opposes the proposed bill, he hopes state legislators will establish the criteria where performance pay might work. However, he is doubtful that will come to fruition.

“The only problem is, nationally, performance pay has been tried over 150 times, and there has yet to be a system that has work,” said Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.

“It would be amazing if (Florida) could make that a reality. I don’t have the faith that it will. There are too many outlying factors that go into the teaching profession that make the evaluation system of the state, currently set up, faulty.”

Senate Bill 736, which was passed in 2011, ties at least 50 percent of a teacher’s salary to student performance on standardized tests for those students assigned to them over a three-year period. Forty percent of a teacher’s current evaluation uses a student growth model, (also known as a value-added model) to determine whether a teacher added any value or knowledge to a student during a school year.

Before a student takes the FCAT, the state predicts his or her score based on previous test scores. This model would still be implemented in the new bill, which causes some to believe that it will introduce errors in the evaluation process.

“It’s a small fix to a kind of chaotic problem that exists right now,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association. “If a teacher doesn’t perform well according to these tests, they could lose their job. When you have a system with errors inherently built into it, that causes a problem.”

The current law allows for a physical education teacher to be evaluated for a student’s reading scores on the FCAT. With SB 980, more standardized tests for various subjects taught by teachers would be created to evaluate them instead.

Michelle Pfeiffer, a seventh-grade civics teacher at Inverness Middle School, believes standardized tests could be highly useful, but too costly to implement across the board.

“Under this new legislation, the attempt to fix it is honorable, but we don’t have the resources to create the new tests for all the subject areas for all the teachers that teach such a variety of skills and content,” said Pfeiffer, who is also the president of the Citrus County Education Association.

“And unless we can provide equity and validity for all the tests  for all the subject areas and make sure everything is in place, we need to stop for now until we have those resources in place.”

Despite concerns over available funding to implement SB 980, proponents of the law agree it’s a step in the right direction for teachers’ evaluations and for students’ quality of education.

“I think it’s a great bill,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. “I think you’re going to see more of these types of reform as the entire legislature gets on the same page. Anything that we can help our children learn better in school is a good investment for the entire state.”

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