Teaching Profession

Florida Board Proposes Ending Bonuses Based on Teachers’ SAT and ACT scores

By Emmanuel Felton — September 26, 2016 2 min read
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There’s a new opponent of Florida’s much-debated Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships program, which provides bonuses to teachers based in part on their own SAT and ACT scores: the Florida Board of Education.

On Friday, the board, which is composed entirely of members appointed by Republican Governor Rick Scott, broke ranks with Republican lawmakers and proposed using the money on other teacher-recruitment and -retention programs. In their annual budget request, the board recommended that instead of renewing the $49 million program for next year, that lawmakers should use $43 million for efforts they say would be more effective at getting good teachers in front of the students that need them the most. Their proposal would attempt to better target funds at teachers working in schools with the highest need and in shortage areas like science, technology, engineering and mathematics, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

John Padget, the board’s vice chairman, called for the move arguing that the “money could be used more efficiently.”

This comes just monehts after the controversial program, designed to attract and retain talented educators, was renewed for a second year by lawmakers in March. In fact, the legislators upped the budget allocation for the program by $5 million to $49 million.

Under the program, educators who had both stellar scores on college admissions exams and at least an “effective” rating on their district’s teacher evaluation system are rewarded with big bonus checks. In April, 5,200 teachers were handed checks as large as $8,500.

But the initiative has been controversial since its very inception in 2015. Especially since bonuses were based on sometimes decades-old ACT and SAT scores, teachers complained that such scores were a poor measure of the quality of their teaching. Back in December, the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arguing that the program discriminated against older teachers, who often struggled to locate their scores, and minority teachers, who have historically struggled on standardized tests that some observers say are culturally biased.

An analysis of the first payments, which went out this April, done by the Orlando Sentinel found that bonuses, which totaled $44 million, disproportionally went to teachers working with rich kids. Educators working in affluent settings were more than twice as likely to receive merit pay.

The newspaper went on to compare the “best and brightest” list with the list of educators the state said were having the most impact for their students:

“Last year, the education department crunched its test-score data to figure which teachers did the best job helping students learn critical math and reading skills. Its list of 9,642 ‘high impact’ teachers, released in February, barely overlaps with the ‘best and brightest’ roster, as just 393 teachers on both lists.”

Earlier this year, the state’s education department asked lawmakers to revamp the program to try to get more good teachers into low-income schools, and the architect of the “best and brightest” program, State Rep. Erik Fresen, a Republican from Miami, proposed changing the system to give an additional $1,000 to teachers working in low-income schools. That measure, however, failed to make it into law, reported the Orlando Sentinel. The future of the program again depends on the will of legislators.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.