September 14, 2017 Contact: Mark Pudlow 850.201.3223 or 850.508.9756
FEA files federal lawsuit over flawed bonus plan
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit in federal court saying part of a law that ties teacher bonuses to their college entrance exam scores is discriminatory.
The lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, says that the Best and Brightest performance-based bonus pay system signed into law in 2015 discriminates against teachers of a certain age and race. The Florida Department of Education and Florida’s 67 school boards are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
“This bonus program is a ridiculous example of bad lawmaking,” said FEA President Joanne McCall. “Instead of properly compensating the best teachers in the state, this program awards bonuses based in large part on the scores they received on their college entrance exams. Many teachers in Florida today did not even take a college entrance exam if they started their college career in the state’s community college system.”
The Best and Brightest program awards teachers who are rated as “highly effective” by the state, but only if they scored in the 80 percentile or higher on the ACT or SAT tests, which are primarily used for entry into college. Many older teachers did not take a college entrance exam or the testing agencies did not have their scores available.
Several plaintiffs named in the suit are older than 40 years of age, not a first year teacher within the program, and either black or Hispanic and were not given a bonus based strictly on SAT/ACT scores, despite having been designated “highly effective.”
The legal challenge says this bonus program discriminates against teachers who are older than 40 and minority teachers, providing these reasons:
- Because no percentile data is available from ACT or SAT for teachers who took these tests before 1972, such teachers are disqualified from receiving the bonus.
- The exemption of first-year teachers from the requirement that they provide evidence of being rated “highly effective” under the respondent employers’ performance evaluation system further discriminates against and has a disparate impact on teachers older than 40 years old. First-year teachers are overwhelmingly younger than 40 years of age.
- The bonus program also discriminates against African-American and Hispanic teachers by using the SAT and ACT as qualifiers. It has been well-established in the courts and peer-reviewed scholarship that the SAT and ACT are a racially and culturally biased tests that disparately impact test-takers on the basis of African-American and Hispanic race.
“A bonus based upon a high school test score, likely taken at 17 or 18, will not help our students have access to great teachers,” McCall said, adding that there is no evidence showing that good test takers make good teachers. “SAT and ACT scores have no correlation to teacher quality. Standardized tests measure testing skills-not teaching or learning skills. Even the College Board said that college entrance exam scores should not be used to award bonuses.”
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with more than 140,000 members. FEA represents pre K-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.