In 2011, the state of Florida passed a law that changed the way teachers would be compensated. Student performance on standardized tests would now have a direct bearing on how teachers were evaluated and whether or not they would get pay increases. Simply put, teachers whose students fared better on standardized tests would receive better evaluations and better pay. Teachers whose students underperformed were likely to see the results in their paychecks.
The bill was not passed without controversy. In fact, Governor Charlie Crist initially vetoed the bill in 2010. The next year a new governor was in office, and the bill was passed. Lawsuits were filed almost immediately. Teachers in three counties filed suit, and they were joined by the National Education Association and the Florida Education Association. The lawsuit was initiated in the Gainesville Federal Court. Plaintiffs in the case argued that creating a connection between standardized test performance and teacher merit pay was unconstitutional.
The judge recently handed down a decision that was declared a victory by the state’s department of education but was decried by the plaintiffs as disappointing. Essentially, Judge Mark Walker decided that although the evaluation system is unfair, it is not within his authority to overturn the law. He was forced to dismiss the lawsuit, writing that the case “is not about the fairness of the evaluation system.” Instead, he based his decision on questioning “whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law.” In his decision, the judge found that the law was not unconstitutional.
Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick is happy with the dismissal, saying that the department is “pleased that we can put the focus where it should be — ensuring all students receive the best education possible.”
That single-minded focus may not yet be possible. Plaintiffs are still considering whether or not to appeal the decision. For now, teachers in Florida will continue to see compensation that is directly tied to standardized test scores, even if those scores come from test subject matter that is not instructed by the teachers who pay will be affected.
If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district legal issue.