(Update: adding information)
Just when you think the state of Florida can’t find another way to misuse standardized test scores, it finds a way. Now, it is planning to spend $44 million to fund a scholarship program that will award big bonuses to teachers who got high SAT and ACT scores before entering college — even if they took the test decades ago.
The proposal was so flawed that it didn’t make it through the Republican-led Senate during the legislature’s spring session, but it rose from the dead in a June special session, winding up in the 2015-16 Florida education spending budget, as Jeffrey S. Solocheck wrote in this Tampa Bay Times story.
The idea originated with state Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, who proposed something called the Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships, which would award bonuses of up to $10,000 to teachers. The story said:
To qualify, a teacher must receive a “highly effective” evaluation rating and have scored at or above the 80th percentile on the SAT or ACT they took in high school. For new teachers, just the test score would count.
If you are wondering whether the SAT or ACT score would be a factor for teachers in their 30s or 40s or 50s or 60s who took the college entrance exams many years ago, the answer is yes. If you are overwhelmed by the logic here, consider this: some teachers never took either test and, therefore, would be unqualified for the scholarship even if they earn consistently high evaluations.
The story quotes Faye Cook, a fifth-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary in Plant City, who used to get a state-funded bonus for earning National Board certification — at least until the state stopped funding those awards. Cook gets top evaluations, but, she never took the ACT or SAT because she started her college career at a community college, which required placement tests but not the ACT or SAT.
The bonus program goes against a decision by the legislature to reward teachers for “performance” in the classroom. In fact, the story notes, state lawmakers voted to stop allowing teachers to get financially rewarded for advanced degrees. New teachers who win a scholarship based only on college admissions test scores flies in the face of this philosophy.
Furthermore, using ACT and SAT scores for any high-stakes purpose is unfair. Some students take standardized tests better than others; some students get coached to take the tests and have an advantage over those who don’t; the scores of these tests themselves are weakly predictive of first-year grades but neither the ACT or SAT is as good a predictor of college graduation as high school records. So why hand over thousands of dollars to teachers based on scores with little if any long-term meaning?
The story quoted Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, as saying, “A college entrance exam from high school is not a suitable or appropriate predictor for which of those smart students are going to be great teachers.”
Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized tests, said that using SAT and ACT scores in this fashion actually violates the test-makers’ own standards for proper use of the exam and results. Here’s what the College Board’s Guidelines on the Uses of College Board Test Scores and Related Data says:
2. For Institutions, Agencies and Organizations
Schools, community college, four-year colleges, universities, scholarship agencies and other organizations should:
2.5 Use College Board test scores and related data with discretion and for purposes that are appropriate and in ways that have been validated and in ways that are consistent with the applicable
guidelines in the remaining sections (emphasis added)
Furthermore, Schaeffer said, neither the SAT nor the ACT has ever been validated as a predictor of public school teaching ability.
“Beyond that,” he said, “I went to college with lots of people whose test scores were well above the 80th percentile (MIT). I doubt more than a handful would have been decent public school teachers, particularly for younger children.”
Florida, under former governor Jeb Bush, was a pioneer in the test-based “accountability” school movement, in which scores from highly questionable standardized tests were used to evaluate schools, districts, students and educators. It mattered not that the testing system set up under Bush, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, became mired in scandal over the years, so much so that in 2012, after only 27 percent of fourth graders scored proficient in an FCAT writing test — down from 81 percent the year before — the Tallahassee Democrat published an editorial that said:
“It’s not as if this is the first time problems with the FCAT — and the school grades closely associated with the FCAT — have made accountability impossible. Just look through some Tallahassee Democrat headlines going back 10 years: “State may see more ‘F’ schools: Changes in system may net more failures” (2002); “FCAT-grade criteria to get tougher” (2003); “New FCAT issues raised: Some say tests easier” (2004); “FCAT reading scores on the decline” (2005); “Florida schools granted leeway: It may mean more public schools pass” (2005); “School grading system may change” (2008); “FCAT audit to delay school grades” (2010); “FCAT writing scores drop across Florida” (2012).”
In May 2014, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled in a lawsuit filed in 2013 by seven Florida teachers and their unions which challenged the state’s educator evaluation system, saying that it is wildly unfair that the state evaluates many teachers on the standardized test scores of students they don’t have or subjects they don’t teach. Walker agreed that it was unfair, but said it was legal.
Yet the state’s love affair with test scores lives on.