Federal judge upholds Florida's merit pay law for teachers

Associated PressMay 7, 2014 

Judge calls teacher evaluation law unfair, but he says legally he can't overturn it

By GARY FINEOUT

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE -- A federal judge acknowledged Tuesday that Florida's contentious teacher evaluation law is unfair, but he still ruled that there was no legal reason to overturn it.

Seven teachers from three counties as well as several teacher unions contended that the 2011 law tying teacher evaluations and pay to standardized testing was unconstitutional.

But U.S District Judge Mark Walker, in an 18-page ruling upheld, the law and dismissed the lawsuit. He said he agreed with the teachers and unions that the law was unfair because teachers who did not teach the primary subjects tested on standardized tests had their evaluations based on test results anyway.

"This case, however, is not about the fairness of the evaluation system," Walker wrote. "The standard of review is not whether the evaluation policies are good or bad, wise or unwise; but whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law."

Legislators in 2011 passed the law that tied teacher evaluations and merit pay to the state's standardized tests. Former Gov. Charlie Crist had vetoed the law the year before but Gov. Rick Scott approved it. Since that time there have been legal challenges mounted in both state and federal courts.

Seven teachers from Alachua, Escambia and Hernando counties along with the Florida Education Association and the National Education Associated filed a lawsuit last year in a Gainesville federal court.

Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said his organization was "disappointed" in the ruling and said the union was reviewing whether to appeal the decision.

"This evaluation system

is clearly unfair and isn't a valid measure of the teachers in our public schools," Ford said in a statement. "We will continue to point out this unfairness and we will continue to work to find an evaluation system that is fair, open and provides a sensible way to properly evaluate our public school teachers."

Joe Follick, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the state was "pleased" with the decision.

"We are pleased that we can put the focus where it should be -- ensuring all students receive the best education possible with these evaluation and accountability tools in place," Follick said.

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