Teachers and union leaders are fighting the new merit pay evaluation system, which they describe as flawed. (Photo by Emory Maiden.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Teachers and union leaders in Florida are fighting a new evaluation system that is the major component of an impending merit pay law.

Teachers recently received a look at the evaluation system and described it as flawed, saying it may end up shortchanging Florida educators. According to Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, there isn’t enough data to make these evaluations properly and the timeline for school officials to implement the system isn’t feasible.

Teachers are also discovering they are incorrectly linked to students in their evaluations.

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

The new system crunches reading and math scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test through a complicated equation, aiming to judge teachers’ influence on student learning. It is a key part of Florida’s new and controversial teacher-merit-pay law.

But many instructors — such as those who teach kindergarten, music, chemistry or Spanish — don’t teach the subjects or grades covered by those FCAT exams. So their value-added data often were based on the scores of students in their school but not in their own classes.

More than 100 Orange teachers have sent the union affidavits detailing how the data hurt their reviews, said Diana Moore, president of the Orange Classroom Teachers Association. And she is sympathetic to their complaints.

“I would not want to be evaluated on somebody’s else’s work,” she said.

Florida Senate Bill 736, which created this merit pay system for teachers, was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott two years ago. It was one of the very first pieces of legislation he approved.

The law is now about to kick in, and unions have said the system isn’t ready. Union leaders are asking state officials not to implement the system yet.

The News Service of Florida reports, however, that state officials are aware of concerns, but are not looking into slowing down implementation of the law.

According to the News Service:

FEA President Andy Ford said the new system “is not ready for prime time” and that Scott or lawmakers should pause the system until it can be overhauled. Under a state law approved by the Legislature in 2011, teachers could see their pay and ability to keep their job affected by the numbers within three years.

“Florida would rather be first than get it right, and it’s affecting real people’s lives at this point,” Ford said.

Ford had already raised the issue with Scott through letters; in response, the governor and interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart indicated they would move forward.

Lawmakers also said Tuesday they weren’t inclined to stop the system.

“I’m shocked, shocked that a union doesn’t want to have their members evaluated on the basis of performance,” newly elected Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said sarcastically when asked about the complaints.

The fight between lawmakers and teacher unions over merit pay in Florida public schools has been lengthy and heated. Implementation of this law would represent a major loss for the unions, which have been fighting a series of policy changes at the state level.