Education International
Education International

USA: Unions file federal lawsuit over teacher-evaluation procedure

published 19 April 2013 updated 30 April 2013

The National Education Association (NEA), an EI national affiliate, together with the Florida Education Association (FEA), has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the evaluation of teachers based on the standardised test scores of students they do not teach or based on subjects they do not teach.

The lawsuit was brought on 16 April by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and FEA President Andy Ford, joined by Bethann Brooks and Kim Cook, two of the seven accomplished teachers and three locals on whose behalf the lawsuit is being filed.

Arbitrary, irrational and unfair evaluation

The lawsuit against the Florida Commissioner of Education, the Florida Board of Education, and the school boards of Alachua, Hernando and Escambia counties claims that the evaluation violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, the teachers find the evaluation to be arbitrary, irrational and unfair.

“This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of the regulation SB 736,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “Teachers in Florida are being evaluated using a formula designed to measure learning gains in the math and reading tests. But most teachers, including the seven in this lawsuit, don’t teach those subjects in the grades in which the test is administered. One of the teachers bringing this suit is getting evaluated on the test scores of students who aren’t even in her school.”

NEA: Flawed evaluation systems being pushed nationwide

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the seven teachers “are supported by hundreds of thousands of educators across the country who are fed up with flawed evaluation systems being pushed by politicians and corporate education reformers in school districts”.

“As unthinkable as it might seem for a teacher to be evaluated on the performance of students they do not teach or subjects they do not teach, this is exactly what is happening and not just in Florida”, he said.

“NEA is proud to stand with our Florida colleagues to say ‘NO’ to evaluation systems that don’t help to improve student learning or the practice of teaching,” Van Roekel said.

As educators’ voices are crucial to the development of well-designed, fair assessments, NEA encourages educators to visit Assessment Advisor, an online site that allows them to rate the assessments that they have used in their own classrooms.

NEA also signed on to a national resolution last year highlighting the issues with an imbalanced focus on high-stakes’ standardised tests. Educators can reinforce the resolution at http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution/

EI: Teachers and unions central to evaluation design process

“EI fully support US colleagues in their fight for fair evaluation system,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “We urge public authorities to engage in good-faith negotiations with education unions to improve the quality of teaching.”

He reiterated that the purpose of evaluation should be clear to all those involved in education.

“The evaluation of education systems, of schools and of higher-education communities, of teachers, and of students have different purposes and should be separate,” van Leeuwen said. “Imposed high-stakes testing systems and punitive school-inspection models, for example, lead to schools focusing mainly on what is tested and inspected, curbing their capacity to innovate, and to curricula being narrowed and to teachers’ self-confidence being undermined. This induces increased demotivation and disaffection in students, who are less likely to progress and achieve.”

“All forms of evaluation involving students, teachers, schools and higher education institutions, and education systems should be understood and be agreed with teachers and education unions,” he said. Such an approach means that teachers are more likely to be enthusiastic and committed to such a process including signing up to any professional standards involved in evaluation and to professional development outcomes.