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As Teachers Sue, Supportive Superintendents Criticize Evaluations Tied to Pay and Tests

| April 18, 2013

Extra pennies in your pay if you solve it.

Extra pennies in your pay if you solve it.

Superintendents expressed frustration Wednesday with the state’s teacher evaluation law during a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott a day after teachers filed suit in federal court to overturn the law.

Scott himself endorsed trying to fix the provision attacked by the lawsuit, part of a long-running dispute between the state and teachers over an effort to implement performance pay. The law, passed in 2011, aims to tie educators’ compensation more closely to their students’ achievements.

But some teachers whose courses aren’t measured in state tests are seeing part of their pay based on the scores of students they don’t teach or the scores of their students in other subjects. The lawsuit filed Tuesday argues that the law violates the constitutional right to equal protection.

“We need to stop evaluating teachers on students they are not serving,” Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego told Scott and Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

Scott, Bennett and two of the governor’s education advisers met with dozens of superintendents from across the state. They heard a broad range of concerns and issues, including support for Scott’s idea of an across-the-board pay raise for teachers to take effect in the next school year, but much of the discussion focused on the evaluation issue.

“At some point, we’re going to have to recognize that not every teacher can have a test that’s built for what they do,” said Malcolm Thomas, superintendent in Escambia County.

Scott told the superintendents that he supported a pair of measures (HB 7141, SB 980) intended to make sure teachers are judged only on the achievement of students they teach. He said the teachers he’s spoken to don’t mind being evaluated.

“They want to make sure it’s fair,” Scott said. “They want to make sure … they’re evaluated based on their student achievement. We’re aggressively working on legislation that is going to move us down that path.”

So far, the bills have seen uneven progress. The House measure is ready for the floor, but the Senate version has two committee stops left as the weeks left in the legislative session dwindle.

Meanwhile, disputes over the law — including the lawsuit, backed by the Florida Education Association and the National Education Association — appear to be tying up negotiations between teachers and school districts in at least some areas.

“My union is still negotiating on ’11-’12 contracts, waiting on the lawsuits that were coming from the FEA and the NEA,” said Levy County Superintendent Bob Hastings.

But Jeff Wright, the chief lobbyist for the FEA, said the state union had advised its local allies not to use the battle over the evaluations as a reason to stall on contracts.

“We have told them all, on these lawsuits, nothing should change in you moving forward with present law,” Wright said.

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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