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Florida Judge: Teacher-Evaluation System Unfair, But Legal

A Florida federal-court judge has ruled that the state's new teacher-evaluation system is legal, even though he is persuaded that it has been poorly implemented and is unfair. 

The National Education Association and its Florida affiliate sued in 2013 to overturn the law creating the new system because some teachers in non-tested grades and subjects are judged in part by the test-score progress of students they don't teach. 

The pressure was worrisome enough that lawmakers made some legislative fixes to the system.

In the 18-page ruling issued May 6 by federal district court Judge Mark Walker noted that the evaluation system stands to affect teachers' pay, promotion, retention, and even reputation given Florida newspapers' penchant for publishing the value-added ratings. But the bottom line, the court said, is that it is nevertheless legal.

"Needless to say, this Court would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would find this evaluation system fair to [teachers in non-tested subjects], let alone be willing to submit to a similar evaluation system," Walker wrote. "This case, however, is not about the fairness of the evaluation system. 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." 

The suit, brought by seven teachers, charged that the law violated teachers' constitutional equal protection and due-process rights. But Walker said that the classification of employees into different categories—some judged using test scores of students not in their classes—wasn't made to discriminate but was rather a "practical consequence" of the lack of uniform measures for assessing student-achievement growth across all subjects and grades.

The Florida Education Association promises that the fight isn't over. 

"This evaluation system is clearly unfair and isn't a valid measure of the teachers in our public schools," FEA President Andy Ford said. "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."

Rulings in other cases challenging value-added, in Tennessee and Texas, are still pending. We haven't seen the end of this particular strain of litigation.

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