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.