Teachers Unions Sue Over Florida Assessment System

Florida teachers unions have filed a lawsuit in Gainesville opposing a new assessment system adopted by the state that would tie their evaluation to student standardized test scores. According to the lawsuit, the law that sets out a new teacher merit pay system would result in thousands of teachers being assessed based on test results in subjects they do not even teach.

According to the plaintiffs, the system as proposed violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the United States Constitution.

Seven teachers in Alachua, Escambia and Hernando county school districts are the plaintiffs, along with their local teacher unions. The education commissioner, the State Board of Education and the Alachua, Escambia and Hernando school boards are the defendants.

"This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, in a statement.

Senate Bill 736 was the merit-pay legislation the Florida Legislature adopted in 2011, overhauling how teachers are evaluated, promoted and paid.

One of the plaintiffs, Kim Cook, was named the teacher of the year at W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua, which teaches kids from pre-K to second grade. Even so, her evaluation was largely based on the test results of fourth- and fifth-graders at nearby Alachua Elementary — and because the results of their exams showed less-than-expected growth, Cook's rating dropped to "unsatisfactory."

Bethann Brooks, another plaintiff, has a similar story. She teaches health science to older kids at Central High School in Brooksville, and her evaluation was based on test scores by students in 9th and 10th grades.

" I don't teach most of those students," she said a telephone call with reporters. "And those I do teach are enrolled in my health–science-related classes." The union wants implementation of the law halted, teachers' evaluations from the 2011-12 school year set aside and then the evaluation system revamped. Its lawsuit is backed by the National Education Association, as well. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages. "This is not a suit about money," said Ron Meyer, the union's attorney. "This is a suit about doing what's right."

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said in a statement he supports the law. But he also said he backs legislative efforts to make sure teachers are not subject to it until an "appropriate assessment for their students and subjects is in place."

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