Fla. Teacher Evaluations Pass 11th Circuit Muster

     (C) – Florida’s revised teacher evaluation policies, imposed through the Florida Student Success Act, do not violate teachers’ rights to due process and equal protection rights, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     The Act, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on March 24, 2011, provided that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation must be based upon evidence of his student’s improving performance on annual statewide assessments.
     To meet this goal, it tasked the Florida Commissioner of Education with approving a formula to measure individual student learning growth on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which students take each year from third through 10th grade.
     The plaintiff in the case, seven Florida public school teachers and three local associations that represent teachers, sued the Alachua, Escambia and Hernando county school districts, the Florida Commissioner of Education and other members of the state Board of Education.
     In a complaint filed in April 2013, they challenged the constitutionality of the Act as well as its implementation.
     The District Court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint’s facial challenge to the School Success Act on the ground that the Florida legislature had a rational basis for enacting the evaluation scheme.
     Although the court did allow some of the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed, it later ruled the evaluation policies implemented under the Act were similarly justified by a rational basis.
     In affirming the District Court’s ruling, the 11th Circuit concluded the plaintiffs failed to successfully refute the state’s contention that the rationale behind the law was purely to increase student academic performance by improving the instructional, administrative and supervisory services offered in its public schools.
     “While the FCAT VAM may not be the best method — or may even be a poor one — for achieving this goal, it is still rational to think that the challenged evaluation procedures would advance the government’s stated purpose,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     “As the plaintiffs conceded at oral argument, Florida officials could have reasonably believed that (1) a teacher can improve student performance through his or her presence in a school and (2) the FACT VAM can measure those school-wide performance improvements, even if the model was not designed to do so,” Pryor continued. “It is also reasonable to think that tying teacher evaluation scores and teacher compensation to FCAT VAM scores can incentivize teachers to pursue more school-wide improvements, which would in turn improve student academic performance. Thus, we agree with the district court that the policies pass rationale review.”
     The panel reached the same conclusion in regard to the plaintiff’s equal protection claim.
     “In this case … the plaintiffs have conceded that the FCAT VAM is — or at least a rational policymaker could believe it is — capable of measuring some marginal impact that teachers can have on their own students or on the overall school environment. Thus, the FCAT VAM is … not irrational for the districts to use as the model for teacher evaluations,” Pryor wrote.
     “Because the state and district defendants could have rationally believed that the challenged evaluation policies would improve student academic achievement, we affirm the district court’s entry of summary judgment in the defendants’ favor,” she said.

%d bloggers like this: