Teachers challenge ruling on evaluation lawsuit

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

The Florida Education Association is appealing a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit led in part by Alachua County teachers challenging the state’s teacher evaluation process.

The lawsuit was filed last year by the FEA, the National Education Association and seven teachers and teachers unions in Alachua, Escambia and Hernando counties.

It challenged the state’s method of evaluating more than half of its teachers in part by the test scores of students or subjects they don’t teach.

State law dictates that part of a teacher’s evaluation must come from standardized test scores, but since there’s no test for subjects like social studies, music, physical education or even Advanced Placement chemistry, those teachers’ evaluations are based on students’ FCAT reading scores, for example.

Alachua County Public School teachers Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher at Irby Elementary School, and Janine Plavac, a health science teacher at Gainesville High School, were two of the seven teachers represented in the suit, along with the Alachua County Education Association, the FEA and the National Education Association.

Cook, Irby’s Teacher of the Year during last school year, received an “unsatisfactory” rating because her evaluation was based on scores from neighboring Alachua Elementary. Irby Elementary serves kindergarten to second grade, so none of the students there take the FCAT.

Similarly, Plavac’s evaluation was based on ninth-grade FCAT reading scores at Gainesville High.

The appeal was filed in district court June 4 and challenges the main legal question in the case — whether it’s irrational to evaluate teachers based on students or subjects they don’t teach.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker acknowledged the unfairness of the system in his opinion written May 6, but ultimately ruled that it was “rational within the meaning of the law.”

“We think that he got that wrong,” said attorney Lynn Hearn of Meyer and Brooks, the firm assisting with the lawsuit.

Although 65 percent of teachers are evaluated on students or subjects that are not theirs, Hearn said, the suit “wasn’t to challenge the use, ever, of using student performance” in teacher evaluations.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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