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Bennett Says State Leaders Are Listening To Complaints About Teacher Evaluations

Gina Jordan
StateImpact Florida
StateImpact Florida

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett says state leaders and lawmakers are listening to teacher concerns about evaluations.

The Florida Education Association is suing Bennett, the Department of Education, and a few school districts over teacher evaluations.

The union believes a 2011 law requiring teacher evaluations violates the equal protection and due process rights of school personnel.

“Gov. Scott has been diligent about listening to teachers,” Bennett said. “One of the things that I can say with great hope is that by the time this legislative session ends, a number of the concerns brought forth in the suit are actually going to be addressed.”

The biggest complaint is that a teacher’s evaluation may be based on the academic performance of students in a different class or even another school — students the teacher never taught.

A bill moving through the Senate would change that.

The bill was getting bipartisan support until a provision was added that says students can’t have a low-performing teacher two years in a row.

Now, the teachers union opposes the bill on the grounds that the state can’t be trusted to adequately determine which teachers are unsatisfactory.

The lawsuit comes as the state phases in Common Core standards and works to develop new assessments.

Florida is part of a consortium of states adopting PARCC – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Part of teacher salaries will be based on these new assessments.

FEA President Andy Ford recently told StateImpact Florida that he thinks teachers don’t have enough say in developing PARCC.

Teachers are never asked for their input,” Ford said. “That’s most of the problem this state has.”

But Bennett says Florida had done more to review each assessment item submitted for PARCC than any other state, and that includes input from Florida teachers.

“Florida is consistently among the highest states in the consortium regarding public input,” Bennett said. “PARCC has received the greatest amount of feedback…from Florida.”

The teachers union is also concerned about how much time will be spent on Common Core testing. The new assessments, scheduled for full implementation in 2014, are likely to take more time than is now being spent on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

“The Common Core State Standards require students to exhibit a much deeper understanding, a much more developed problem solving ability as it pertains to standard mastery,” Bennett said.

“That indicates to us that there will be different types of questions on the test. So this will not be your traditional bubble test,” Bennett said. “That takes a greater amount of time.”

Bennett doesn’t believe teachers will have to teach to the test either, as critics say they do now with the FCAT.

“The nature of Common Core – fewer, deeper, higher standards – will provide our teachers in Florida an incredible opportunity to utilize their creativity…and innovation in their classrooms to help students get the level of mastery they need,” Bennett said. “So there’s not a way to say ‘let’s teach to the test.’

“Nobody ever says we teach to the SAT or the ACT,” Bennett said. “The intent of PARCC – and the intent of any assessment that is developed for Common Core – is to enable students to illustrate that level of mastery at a clear, higher, deeper level.”

Copyright 2013 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

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