Teacher's Pay to Be Based on Students' Test Scores; State Board of Education Approves New Rule despite Some Districts' Concerns

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Byline: TIA MITCHELL and J. TAYLOR RUSHING

The Florida Board of Education unanimously approved a rule Tuesday that requires all teacher salaries to be based in part on student achievement and requires districts to set aside bonus money for teachers whose students show the largest improvement.

The state's Effectiveness Compensation plan, or E-Comp, is born out of a law passed by the Legislature in 2002 that implemented performance pay for Florida teachers. The approved rule requires school districts to factor in student achievement when determining base salaries of teachers and to also reward bonuses equal to 5 percent of base salaries to instructors who rank among the top according to student learning gains.

The seven-member board approved the plan with minimal discussion at the urging of Education Commissioner John Winn. Before the vote, there was testimony from several teachers and principals who said they supported the concept but were concerned about the details and timeline.

Districts must submit a plan outlining how they will adhere to the new rule by June 15, which would go into effect next school year. However, they can receive additional time if necessary to come up with a method for assessing student gains for non-FCAT subjects.

Board Chairman Phil Handy said the plan follows the will of the Legislature and will end the history of inconsistent compliance among school districts of the pay-for-performance law.

"The Legislature was clear in 2002 that this was an ideal public policy that they wanted to be implemented. It wasn't," Handy said.

Gov. Jeb Bush has consistently supported the concept of performance-based pay, telling reporters in Tallahassee last week that districts have not been complying with the 2002 law. He said he welcomed negotiations with the state teachers union and plans a supplemental budget recommendation to fund the initiative.

"The districts, by one degree or another, have made an effort to implement it, but it hasn't met the criteria or threshold of meeting the statutory requirements," Bush said. "I believe we're going to have to find some money for it to garner the acceptance necessary for its implementation. You've got to put a little dough in there."

Duval County School Board Chairwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said the district already has a satisfactory pay-for-performance plan, noting it was approved by the state under the old rule. Duval County is one of only a handful that spent more than the minimum 5 percent on teacher bonuses last school year.

Priestly Jackson called the new rule "extremely problematic" because it calls for a uniform policy despite inequities among schools in the district.

It requires districts to collectively bargain with unions to set pay scales that take into account student learning gains. Most counties currently pay teachers the same with similar experience and credentials. Under the new rule, teachers whose students make large gains will make more than other teachers with similar backgrounds.

Student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test will be used in many cases. However, districts will have to use other standardized tests, industry-related exams or newly created assessments to garner data for teachers of non-FCAT subjects. …