Florida Senate Committee Keeps ACT/SAT Teacher Reward Program


The Florida Senate Education Committee has voted to keep a controversial program that offers bonuses to teachers based on scores they received on ACT or SAT exams they took in high school.

The vote angered many teachers in the state who consider the program to be unfair.

“I am furious, absolutely furious, that they would call it the dumbest bill ever, but it is still going,” said Celeste Richter, a Pasco County high school government teacher.

Richter added that once she has obtained her master’s in education leadership she will earn an additional $600 per year while first-year teachers who did well on the SATs are being given thousands of dollars by the state, saying, “It’s not fair.”

The “Best and Brightest” program offers teachers in the state a bonus of up to $10,000 who receive “highly effective” evaluation ratings, and who held high school entry exam scores in the 80th percentile or higher.  However, new teachers who have not yet had an evaluation can receive the bonus based on old test scores, writes Jeffrey Solochek for The Tampa Bay Times.

Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said she did not understand the rationale behind the decision, asking what sort of pressure lawmakers were under that would keep “them from doing what they are confident is the right thing to do.”

The Republican majority pushed the bill through.  While committee vice chairwoman Nancy Detert called it “ridiculous” and “ill thought out,” she added that teachers in the state did need some form of reward, and hopes that House leadership can transform it into a bill to be proud of, reports Kristen Clark for The Bradenton Herald.

Education committee chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, the only Republican to vote against the bill, sponsored it in the Senate this year in order to ensure the chance to discuss it came up.  Legg believes the program has failed in three ways.

Leslie Postal from The Orlando Sentinel notes that Legg had argued that the bill rewards test scores rather than teacher results, brings down morale in schools, and he considers it to be a piece of legislation that was passed just to see what works rather than determining what works first.

Criticism from Florida teachers is mounting, with complaints suggesting that SAT and ACT scores cannot predict teaching skills, and that support should have continued for the National Board certification program in order to offer a reward to teachers for external performance.

In addition, many teachers argue that they had never taken the SAT or ACT, but had instead entered a four-year college program after enrolling in community college, which does not require the exams.  Those that had not taken the test yet had the opportunity to take the ACT in order to qualify for the program, but many said only one test date was available before the deadline, which was offered only days before.

State and federal complaints have been filed against the program by the Florida Education Association, who call the program discriminatory.