By Amanda Litvinov
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Considering Florida’s terrible record of using all the wrong tests for all the wrong reasons, perhaps the latest test-related news from Tallahassee shouldn’t come as a surprise.
But this is shocking.
A Florida lawmaker’s proposal to base a teacher bonus of up to $10,000 on the scores they received on their college entrance exams became law earlier this month.
Rep. Erik Fresen was inspired to propose the legislation after he read a book about countries with high-performing students and high-aptitude teachers, like Finland. (Someone should have highlighted for him the fact that teachers in Finland are also paid on par with engineers, and that nearly 100% of the teaching workforce is unionized.)
Fresen’s original bill sputtered out during the spring session. But it was resurrected and tacked onto the budget bill that lawmakers finally passed during a special session that became necessary after House members hit an impasse and adjourned three days early in April.
Gov. Rick Scott had the opportunity to strike the $44 million program through line-item veto, but chose to preserve it.
“There’s no data or research whatsoever to support that someone with a higher ACT or SAT score ends up being a better teacher,” says Faye Cook, a fifth-grade teacher at a Title I elementary school in Hillsborough County.
The SAT and ACT tests are intended to determine a student’s readiness for college, but they’ve been heavily criticized for favoring children from wealthier families, who typically have more exposure to the vocabulary emphasized on the tests and are more likely to have taken the practice SAT one or more times.
Under the new Florida law, whether it’s been five years or 35 years since they took the test, teachers who scored in the 80th percentile or above and received a “highly effective” rating on their evaluation will qualify for the bonus (called Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships).
Cook might never qualify for the “scholarship,” as she started her journey to becoming a teacher at age 35 at a community college that didn’t require the exam.
Never mind that she has received “Highly Effective” ratings under both evaluation systems that have been in place in Florida since she started teaching.
Or that she has 25 years of experience.
Never mind that she has been a National Board Certified Teacher since 1999. (In fact, Cook spoke to Education Votes from a National Board Certified Teacher Network conference–that’s the sort of thing she does with her free time.)
“It’s frustrating that the state would hastily institute a totally unproven idea about what makes for a good teacher. Meanwhile they no longer reward teachers for earning National Board certification, which study after study has shown is beneficial to teacher practice and therefore beneficial for students,” said Cook.
“It makes no sense that legislators in Florida or anywhere else for that matter come up with these ideas and write these bills without talking to educators,” she said.
“Think of it this way: If you’re going to need surgery on your heart, you don’t go consult someone who grows oranges. The stakes are just as high with education policy.”