Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Teachers Challenge District on Bonuses | 3 in Sarasota County Don't Get Controversial Pay Linked to Their Own High School Test Scores

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Teachers Challenge District on Bonuses | 3 in Sarasota County Don't Get Controversial Pay Linked to Their Own High School Test Scores

Article excerpt

EDUCATION

Three Sarasota County School District employees have challenged a decision that they do not qualify for Florida's controversial new education rewards, under a program that grants bonuses for student performance on a standardized test.

One said the district denied her a scholarship because she is an occupational therapist and not a classroom teacher, though she teaches classes and has specific course code assignments. Another teacher was rejected because his test performance was compared with Florida students instead of with students nationally. The third was passed over because she ranked as "highly effective" during the 2014- 15 school year, but not during 2013-14.

The three educators filed petitions contesting the decisions with Florida's Division of Administrative Hearings this week.

They are among the first legal challenges to the Best and Brightest Scholarship program, created by the Florida Legislature this year. It allocates $44 million to reward teachers statewide who scored in the 80th percentile or above on the SAT or ACT tests with $10,000 scholarships. To qualify, employees must be teachers rated as "highly effective" under the state's new teacher evaluation guidelines.

While the rewards are called scholarships, the money is not limited to use for teacher training or education.

Critics, including teachers, have questioned the rationale

for a program that is largely based on a score on a test that some took years ago.

The challenges come as state lawmakers consider making the program permanent. Currently, the program is set to expire after the 2015-16 school year.

Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee attorney representing two of the petitioning Sarasota educators, said the employees were required to file administrative complaints against the School Board instead of the Florida Department of Education because under the program, the district administers the scholarships.

"I regret that because the program's illogical nature isn't the doing of the school district," Meyer said. "The district is somewhat hamstrung in having to interpret the statute in a manner the DOE says it needs to."

School District spokesman Scott Ferguson said school officials simply followed state guidelines. "I know that as far as DOE goes, we consulted with them on some of the definitions that are in question, what a classroom teacher is for example," Ferguson said. "We consulted with DOE and we processed the applications based on our understanding of those qualifications."

David Oness, who teaches social studies at Sarasota High School, said in his challenge that while the state suggests teachers should qualify for the scholarship only if they rank in the 80th percentile or above nationally on the SAT or ACT, the statute only requires the score be "based upon the percentile ranks in effect when the teacher took the assessment. …

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