‘Enough is Enough': Florida Teachers Sue to Block Flawed Evaluation System

When elementary school teacher Kim Cook faced her end-of-the-year evaluation last November, she couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. Maybe she shouldn’t have – after all, a few weeks earlier she was voted teacher of the year by her colleagues and the administration at Irby Elementary in Alachua, Florida. But Cook knew that the state’s new evaluation system employed some truly bizarre formulas to rate teachers.

“I was concerned going in,” Cook recalls. “I knew what was in Senate Bill 736, but I still wasn’t really prepared for the result.”

The result was a rating of “unsatisfactory.” Outraged, Cook took to Facebook and posted the scoring details of her evaluation:

Lesson Study: 100/100 points x .20 (20%) = 20 points
Principal Appraisal: 88/100 points x .40 (40%) = 35.2 points
VAM Data: 10/100 x .40 (40%) = 4 points

Clearly, the VAM data significantly lowered Cook’s score. End of story? Hardly. Like Cook said, once you take a look at Florida’s new system, such skewered results may not be all that surprising, but the methods used to produce them are still unacceptable and, according to Cook, even unconstitutional.

Cook is now one of seven plaintiffs in a major lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Gainesville by the National Education Association (NEA) and the Florida Education Association (FEA). The lawsuit contends that the state’s new evaluation system violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Senate Bill 736, championed by Gov. Rick Scott and passed in 2011, requires that at least 40 percent of teachers’ evaluation be based on a value-added model (VAM). This particular model comprises a bewildering formula that incorporates test data from students who some teachers have never taught. Irby Elementary only goes through grade 2, so the district used data from the grade 3-5 students in another school down the road (Alachua Elementary) to evaluate teachers in Irby Elementary. Cook’s VAM rating sunk because those Alachua students didn’t perform as well as projected by the state formula. Teachers who are rated unsatisfactory 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 starting next year, salaries will be based on the assigned performance rating as well.

“It’s surreal. How can anyone justify evaluating teachers using students they have never taught or subjects they have never taught?” Cook asks.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel praised the seven teachers who brought the action and said they will have the support of the countless teachers across the nation who are fed up with these flawed evaluation systems.

“Seven accomplished educators in Florida are pushing back against one arbitrary, irrational and unfair evaluation system,” Van Roekel said. “NEA is proud to stand with our colleagues in Florida to say ‘NO’ to evaluation systems that don’t help improve student learning or the practice of teaching.”

“This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736,” added FEA President Andy Ford.

The legal action taken by these seven Florida educators will undoubtedly add to the growing momentum against misguided accountability systems that rob students of actual learning and tangle up teachers’ performance evaluations with unreliable test scores. In February, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle garnered national attention when they refused to administer the flawed MAP test.

Kim Cook believes those politicians who are responsible for these policies should get ready to hear even more.

“Teachers are at the point now where we all have to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ These evaluations are designed without any foundation in research and they scapegoat dedicated and talented teachers. I consider myself a very good teacher and I feel the same way about my wonderful colleagues. We pour our heart and soul into our classrooms every day. We will not be devalued any longer.”

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Educators’ voices are crucial to the development of well-designed, fair assessments. That’s why NEA encourages members to visit Assessment Advisor, an online site that lets them rate the assessments that they’ve used in their own classrooms.

  • http://www.bbbloviatiins.blogspot.com Bonny Buffington

    Go get ‘em, Kim! And when you’re done, come on up to Ohio and help us out!

  • Mittie Greene

    As a teacher of Hillsborough County School District, I would like to add my voice to and for the many others who are afraid and intimidated by this system. I am a 30 Veteran Teach, 13 years in Hillsborough County. Present Posistion, French,6-8, French 1, 9th Grade credit. Usually score above District averages.

    We are under the SAME umbrella of concerns and I would GLADLY lend my Voice to this EFFORT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Carol

    Teachers in Florida need to do as those in Washington and refuse to administer this test!
    Parents in Florida need to do as parents in New York and refuse to send their kids to school on test days. This is undermining the education of children in ways we know need to be address. Teaching to the test is not what educated people really want, is it?

  • David Perna

    So much has happened across the country to discredit the profession that it really time for teachers to stand together and simply strike. Yes, I know all the negative reactions that will occur. Yes, I know that in terms of salary there will be losses. HOWEVER, the power created by a strike will last for many years. (Stories like Florida need to be brought to the attention of all citizens.)

  • http://Facebook Diane White

    It is time, this summer, when we are not at the mercy of the Bully in Tallahassee, that we should all unite – all teachers in all 67 counties.
    If yuou agree like and comment.

  • Jill R. Rothenburg

    Dear Colleagues-is there a petition afoot that we can sign to join in the cause of eliminating test scores to our evaluations and salaries? Please let all of know. FORWARD!!!!!!!!

  • Wendy

    How can juveniles that are not under the same umbrella as adults for the legal system due to their minds not being fully developed, determine the salary in part of educators based on their testing scores? Is this not making our system liable for additional law suits?

  • Wendy

    In other words, juveniles do not operate w/ the same mindset as adults and the legal system recognizes this, yet, educators salaries rest on their shoulders in regard to their testing data.

  • http://none earl

    When politicians salaries are tied to the economy, unemployment, real estate taxes, ability to lower budgets and stay within their means and fire administrators that target tachers that are not their fiends, they can establish a fair evaluation system for teachers.
    But our government can not even establish a budget and or lower one. They can only lower the percentage of it’s increases.
    What we, government and school administrators need to do is simple, evaluate the parents of low preforming students and fire them. They are the reason for students failures.

  • Rosemarie De Luca

    Getting sick of this kind of thing! We need to proclaim that there’s a Republican/Tea Party-prompted “War on Teachers”!

  • Kathy

    How do you file a lawsuit?

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  • Kathy

    I was a teacher in Hillsborough County for eight years. I taught reading. I left when I was told that according to my evaluation or I should say Charlotte Danielson’s evaluation, I needed remediation. Funny though, my students made DSS gains consistently every year that I taught in that school. Please let me know what I can do to help. I would love to be part of the lawsuit. Also, ALL teachers should read Diane Ravitch’ s latest book.

  • Linda Eastman

    Shish kebobs are skewered. The evaluation ratings are skewed.

  • http://Enough Susan

    You can thank the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation for part of this and throw in Arne Duncan. This is a fight over the state teacher union not supporting some of their candidates and issues. Gates and Duncan do not like unions and probably don’t care for public education. They both went to private schools. Duncan likes charter schools. Statisticians were hired to play around with numbers to make public education look bad and to the general public it may work. Gates, Duncan, Scott and others do not care if a few good teachers get the axe. Those will be collateral damage. So, teachers get your voices going. There will be a gubernatorial election coming up.

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