I am all for recognizing excellence in teaching and rewarding effective teachers. But it seems crazy to go back to high school test scores to determine excellence. That’s exactly what the state of Florida is doing in a new awards policy that relies on a first-year teacher’s SAT or ACT score in the absence of any classroom track record.
Despite its title, Florida’s new Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program is a bonus rather than a scholarship. The Florida Legislature just set aside $44 million for the bonuses, which can climb as high as $10,000.
The state estimates 4,402 teachers or more could be eligible based “high academic achievement on the SAT or ACT.” Teachers already in the classroom would also have to show they’ve been rated “highly effective” in their evaluations.
I find the veneration of SAT/ACT scores puzzling given the growing number of colleges making such admissions tests optional. Florida prides itself on digging deep into data to drive its education reforms, but the research is cloudy on whether strong SAT or ACT scores correlate with highly effective teaching.
(Here is a good paper out of Dartmouth on what factors predict whether someone will be an effective teacher. On the issue of SAT/ACT scores, the researchers note: “One problem with interpreting the relation between successful teaching and college entrance exam scores is that performance on standardized achievement tests is determined by a host of different factors: access to educational resources in childhood, parental investment in education, personal motivation and willingness to study hard, raw intelligence, etc.”)
Depending on the single score of a test taken in high school to designate high performing teachers is sparking criticism.
To award extra pay based on a test taken as a high schooler, therefore, made little sense to some, especially for veteran teachers in their 30s and older. “A college entrance exam from high school is not a suitable or appropriate predictor for which of those smart students are going to be great teachers,” said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
She also couldn’t miss that the amount of a Best and Brightest scholarship came close to the added pay teachers used to get after earning National Board certification. Lawmakers stopped budgeting for that program, which many deemed more meaningful than a master’s degree, arguing the certification did not have a strong correlation to student outcomes.
“These individuals went through a grueling process that showed they were the tops in their field. But that was swept aside,” Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said. “Now, we have this.”
Here is the official explanation of the “scholarships” from the state of Florida web site:
Beginning in the 2015-2016 school year the scholarship program shall provide funding for scholarships to be awarded to teachers who have demonstrated a high level of academic achievement. To be eligible for a scholarship, a teacher must have scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT based upon the percentile ranks in effect when the teacher took the assessment and also have been evaluated as highly effective pursuant to s. 1012.34, F.S.
However, a first-year teacher who has not been evaluated is also eligible if the teacher scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT based upon the percentile ranks in effect when the teacher took the assessment. Teachers must provide an official record of his or her SAT or ACT score no later than October 1 to demonstrate eligibility for the award. Once a teacher is deemed eligible by the school district, the teacher remains eligible as long as he or she is employed by the school district and maintains or, if the teacher is a first-year teacher, earns the evaluation designation of highly effective pursuant to s. 1012.34, F.S. School districts must submit to the department the number of eligible teachers annually, by December 1. The department shall disburse funding annually, by February 1, in an amount prescribed in the General Appropriations Act (GAA), to each school district for each eligible teacher to receive a scholarship. If the number of eligible teachers exceeds the total appropriation authorized in the GAA, the department is required to prorate the award amount for each teacher.