Teachers outraged over outdated test scores being used in Florida bonus system


Rep. Erik Fresen answers questions on the House floor on March 17, 2015.

Story by Carly Berthiaume, Editor-in-Chief

Many Palm Beach County Public School teachers are pursuing legal action after modifications were made to the requirements for the state of Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship, causing many to be denied up to $10K in bonus money. On Nov. 30, Palm Beach School District teachers received a mass e-mail stating that the qualifications for Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship would be based on Marzano ratings from fiscal year 2014 (FY14) instead of fiscal year 2015 (FY15). Many who had once been eligible when they applied by the Oct. 1 deadline were no longer in the running for the bonus that the scholarship grants teachers.

The reasoning behind this decision is that final ratings, which are based on in-class evaluations using the Marzano Scale and student test scores, were not available because the state had not released final scores; therefore, the district turned to outdated scores for the 5,000 plus applicants.

The qualifications for the scholarship are 1) being a classroom teacher, which excludes any and all other school district personnel, 2) having a “highly effective” rating on the Marzano Scale, and 3) earning an ACT/SAT score at or above the national 80th percentile of the year in which they took the tests.

The overall consensus from Florida teachers is that they are happy to finally be awarded bonuses, but are not at all pleased with the criteria behind the decision. Boca High College and Career Counselor Mrs. Helene Kessler agreed, saying that she felt that the scholarship criteria was ridiculous and unclear when they first announced it, and her opinion hasn’t changed since then.

“The criteria and testing schedule was given too late for teachers to take advantage of it. No one understood which years’ evaluations were being used,” she said, “and frankly, it was discriminatory against older teachers who couldn’t get their scores. It was also discriminatory against teachers, who for example, started in community college and didn’t take the SAT or ACT, and it was also unfair in that new teachers were able to receive the scholarship without having ever taught a class.”

She added that College Board was caught unaware and wasn’t able to roll out scores quickly and on time, without further investment from teachers. Therefore, many teachers had to pay the $30 fee to receive their test scores, and many were either still unable to access those scores or didn’t qualify after the FY14 ratings were used instead of FY15.

Boca High teacher Ms. Camile Betances was new to the school district in the FY14 year and was not ranked highly effective on the Marzano Scale, thereby excluding her from the scholarship. She has been rated highly effective in all of her other eight years of teaching, so she said that she felt she’d narrowly missed out on the bonus. Because she and many others were expecting the district to use last year’s ratings, she planned to receive the bonus on April 1 and was counting on the extra funds in order to put a down payment on a house.

“We were told that we were going to get final notification of everything on Dec. 1,” said Ms. Betances, “but back in October, when everything was due to the district, we got e-mails confirming whether our test scores are good enough, whether or not they qualified. So most teachers knew they qualified or knew they didn’t qualify because you had to submit everything by Oct. 1 anyway.”

The Palm Beach Central High School Math Department Chair, Ms. Thyme Salemme, said that the last minute announcement made a bad situation worse for nearly everyone; hundreds of teachers that were highly effective in FY14 were not in FY15. They most likely did not apply because they though the district was going to use FY15, and they chose to avoid the hassle of applying for a scholarship they wouldn’t receive.

“We have many teachers who really are the best at their school at what they teach, and are the brightest spot in some students’ day- and they did not qualify. For this reason it is ineffective for all but the youngest and newest teachers, as a recruiting tool… Basically this is a signing bonus for new hires, and as an after-thought they allowed the rest of the teachers to qualify too,” said Ms. Salemme.

This viewpoint that the scholarship is being used as a recruitment method was reaffirmed by the Florida’s Best and Brightest Scholarship creator, Representative Erik Fresen. He was said to have admitted in an article by Arek Srkissian from the Naples Daily News that he had “hoped the program would attract high-performing college students as teachers.”

Teachers throughout the state have turned their outrage to their school districts and have joined to file class action lawsuits. Broward Teachers Union is one of these districts, but is unclear whether or not the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association will follow suit.

“I know some have mentioned [taking legal action],” said Ms. Salemme, “but I do not know of anyone who has followed through- because let’s face it: teachers do not usually have the extra financial resources, nor the free time to pursue legal representation.  And those that do, prefer not to use it to chase what will likely amount to less than $5k after taxes.”

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