Pensacola, Florida
Thursday November 20th 2014

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MERITLESS FCAT The concept of merit pay makes sense. The best workers deserve to be paid better than slackers. No one can argue against that, unless you are one of the slackers. That’s why the new bills, SB 736 and HB 7019, that propose using the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores of students to determine half a teacher’s compensation, are called “merit pay” bills.

The label makes the voters think the lawmakers will be rewarding the best teachers and culling the herd of the bad ones. Sadly, FCAT has little to do with the merit of the teachers, and the data from over a decade of FCAT scores proves it.

Last year, the Florida Legislature, who loves to play with our children’s education more than dealing with the shrinking state budget, passed a “teacher merit pay” bill, but Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Few believe that Gov. Rick Scott will do anything to stop this disastrous proposal from becoming law. After all, the mantra of the ultra-conservative right wing of the Republican Party is that poor education is the teachers’ fault. The teachers, their union and tenure are the enemies.

When a child takes the FCAT, the test is a one-time snapshot of that child’s knowledge and test-taking ability. The child’s reading, math, science and writing skills are not solely the result of his current teacher’s ability, but a product of all his prior teachers and whatever involvement his parents have had in his learning. The only merit that FCAT judges is that of the children, parents and the school system.

Lawmakers and politicians can’t punish parents, school superintendents and school boards, so they target the school teachers, many of whom are buying school room supplies with their personal funds.

What has happened is schools that have students who can’t read and do poorly on the FCAT spend an inordinate amount of time drilling on the test. Some start before Thanksgiving, and by January they are spending most of their class time on the FCAT. The result is some schools have one-time gains in FCAT scores, but the students don’t retain the knowledge.

The Florida Department of Education grades schools on FCAT scores and their gains in reading and math among the highest and lowest performing students. In 2006, Allie Yniestra Elementary went from a “C” school to an “A,” only to drop to an “F” the following year. In 2007, Montclair Elementary made an even more dramatic turnaround, going from “F” to “A.” The following year it dropped to a “D.” For the same three-year period, Navy Point Elementary went from “F” to “A” to “C.”

Did the teachers go from “world class” to dismal “failures” in one year? Of course not. If there was a magic instruction strategy that would move a school from “F” to “A,” don’t you think it would be repeated every year in every school in the district?

Schools that have students from more stable homes where there are books to read and a parent who is involved with the child’s education do better on FCAT because reading, writing and math come easier. A bad teacher at Cordova Park Elementary or A.K. Suter Elementary can get above-average FCAT scores, while a good teacher at Allie Yniestra Elementary can only pray that her class has a good test day.

Let’s reward our good teachers, regardless of where they teach, but we need a more objective measurement for their merits than the flawed FCAT score.

rick@inweekly.net