New Florida law: Teachers can’t be evaluated on students they don’t have

In the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff category: Florida just passed a law making it illegal to evaluate teachers on standardized test scores of students they never taught. If you are wondering why such a law would be necessary, here’s why:

For two years, many teachers were actually being evaluated by the test scores of students they had never even seen much less taught, under a school reform law that included a requirement that Florida teachers be evaluated on student test scores.

In April, seven teachers, along with the National Education Association and the Florida Education Association, filed a lawsuit challenging the system, arguing that it was unfair and violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

One of the teachers is Kim Cook, a teacher in Alachua, Fla., who, as this post explains, was evaluated at Irby Elementary, a K-2 school where she works and was named Teacher of the Year last December. Forty percent of her evaluation was based on test scores of students at Alachua Elementary, a school into which Irby feeds, whom she never taught.

After a public outcry over the issue, the legislature passed a new law and Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed it, though it only partial remedies the problems with the original school reform law. Still unclear, though, is how teachers whose students do not take state standardized tests will be evaluated as well as other issues. The lawsuit will not be withdrawn in part because the new law does nothing to alter the flawed evaluations of the past two years.

Florida, it should be noted, is not the only place where teachers have been evaluated on test scores of students they didn’t have, or on test scores in subjects they don’t teach — Tennessee and the District created similar situations. This happened after the Obama administration, in its Race to the Top education initiative, required states to link teacher evaluation to “student growth” — as measured in test scores — in order to receive federal funds in the competition.

States, devising complicated ways to measure student growth, found themselves confronted with the problem that most teachers taught subjects for which there were no standardized tests. That led to a rush of field testing for assessments in all subjects (including yearbook) in many places, and systems that evaluated teachers on subjects and students they didn’t teach. It never made sense, but that didn’t seem to matter. This may sound like fiction, but it’s what actually happened. So goes the path of “school reform.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · June 16, 2013