The Florida Education Association and seven Florida teachers are suing their state, the state department of education, and all 67 public school boards in the state, charging that a performance-based teacher bonus program discriminates against black and Hispanic teachers and those over 40.
The “Best and Brightest” program, which started in 2015, is meant to reward Florida teachers who are rated highly effective on their evaluations. But state legislators mandated that teachers who applied for the bonus also had to submit their own SAT or ACT scores—some dating back decades—which need to be in the 80th percentile or above. (First-year teachers can qualify for the bonus solely based on their exam scores.)
The federal complaint, which was filed Sept. 13 in a U.S. District Court, says that “the SAT/ACT score requirement is not required by business necessity and is not related to job performance.” The lawsuit includes seven teachers who were rated highly effective but were either deterred from applying because they didn’t have qualifying SAT/ACT scores or applied and were denied a bonus because of their scores.
In the program’s first year, 2015-16, 5,332 teachers each received a bonus of $8,256.27. Only 4 percent of these teachers were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were black, according to the lawsuit. However, 13 percent of teachers with a “highly effective” rating this year were Hispanic and 8 percent were black. Only 44 percent of teachers who received a bonus in 2015-16 were 40 years old or older, although 64 percent of “highly effective” teachers were over 40, the complaint alleges.
The union is charging that the program leaves out teachers who took the SAT or ACT before 1972, because they were not ranked by percentile then. (Teachers are allowed to retake the SAT or ACT now.) Also, critics have long claimed that the SAT and ACT have a racist history, and there have been some studies that argue there is evidence of racial and cultural bias on the college entrance exams.
“Many teachers in Florida today did not even take a college entrance exam if they started their college career in the state’s community college system,” Joanne McCall, the union president, says in a statement. “A bonus based upon a high school test score, likely taken at 17 or 18, will not help our students have access to great teachers.”
The SAT/ACT requirement has been widely disparaged by Florida teachers, administrators, and even some lawmakers, who have questioned whether there is enough evidence tying those exam scores to job performance. In January, the Orlando Sentinel spoke to one teacher who summed up the argument against the mandate of SAT/ACT scores this way: “The test I took as a junior in high school? How does this test determine whether you’re a good teacher or not?”
Here’s the full complaint:
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.