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Teacher's Union Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Florida Teacher Evaluations

Kim Cook / Facebook

The Florida Education Association and National Education Associationfiled a federal lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s teacher evaluation system.

The system was created under a law passed in 2011 known as Senate Bill 736.

State law requires school districts base at least 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores.

One of the plaintiffs, Kim Cook, was the 2012 teacher of the year at Irby Elementary School in Alachua County.

“My evaluation for the 2011-12 school year was based on the FCAT reading scores of students in another grade in another school,” Cook said. “Specifically, 40 percent of my evaluation was based on the FCAT reading scores of 4th and 5th graders at Alachua Elementary.”

Cook expects to be evaluated the same way this year.

The suit contends that the current evaluation system violates the equal protection and due process rights of teachers and other instructional employees.

FEA President Andy Ford said the plaintiffs are asking that all teacher evaluation rankings for the 2011-12 school year be set aside and Florida’s evaluation process be revamped.

“It is simply unfair for teachers to be evaluated using a formula designed to measure learning gains in the FCAT math and reading tests,” Ford said. “These participating teachers have been ranked on the test scores of students they do not teach or in subjects that they do not teach.”

Ford said the lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the current evaluation system.

He acknowledged that most teachers received a good evaluation last year and will likely do just as well this year.

“But the idea that the assessments are primarily based on standardized test scores of students in subjects you don’t teach makes this system arbitrary, irrational and unfair,” Ford said. “That’s why the lawsuit seeks to invalidate the evaluation provisions of SB736 and have lawmakers return to the drawing board.”

He wants teachers to help design a new evaluation system. Lawmakers are working on a bill which would require teachers are only evaluated using the scores of students they taught.

Another plaintiff, Bethann Brooks, is the reigning teacher of the year in Hernando County.

Brooks is a health science teacher at Central High School in Brooksville.

“Last year, 51 percent of my evaluation was based on FCAT reading scores for all 9th and 10th graders at Central High,” Brooks said. “However, I don’t teach most of those students.”

FEA Attorney Ron Meyer said he hopes the lawsuit is a learning opportunity for lawmakers and state education leaders who need to see that the system is flawed.

“The damages to the plaintiffs are that they’ve been assessed unfairly,” Meyer said. “What they received were evaluations which were not reflective of the work that they performed on the students who are assigned to them in the subject areas which they teach, and that’s wrong.”

He said the lawsuit is not about money — for now.

The paychecks of the plaintiffs haven’t been affected yet. Last year was the first year for the new evaluations. Teacher pay and employment status may be affected by this year’s evaluations starting in July.

The lawsuit was filed in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Florida, Gainesville Division. It’s assigned to District Judge Mark Walker.

The suit names Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and the State Board of Education, as well as the school boards of Alachua, Escambia, and Hernando counties as defendants. The suit was filed on behalf of seven Florida teachers.

For the FEA synopsis of the suit, click here.

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Gina Jordan reports from Tallahassee for WUSF and WLRN about how state policy affects your life.