Florida teachers will soon be judged on how much they improve student scores on a standardized test. Part of their pay is going to be based on a new formula created by the state.
But the formula doesn’t take into account what researchers say is one of the strongest indicators of student success: poverty.
The equation predicts what students should score on the state’s standardized exam, the FCAT, and then grades teachers if their students score above or below that predicted test score.
By 2014, all Florida schools will have to use the formula to evaluate teacher performance.
Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says leaving out poverty is a problem. He says poverty isn’t an excuse for low student performance, but it also can’t be ignored.
“To completely eliminate it off the table of discussion I think is quite frankly, reckless, disingenuous and insulting to poor people,” Carvalho said.
The formula takes into account 10 factors Florida officials say impact how well a student does in school, like class size, attendance, and the previous scores students get on the FCAT.
But nothing related to poverty is in the equation. Not whether a student has food to eat, or a place to sleep at night.
“The theory is that whether you come from a very poor and low socioeconomic background or a very high socioeconomic background, the abilities to learn and have student achievement are the same.”
– Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistant Principals Association.
And those circumstances do affect how well a student does in school, according to Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistant Principals Association.
“It’s hard for a student to do well on a test when they haven’t had breakfast, lunch or dinner for a day or so because their levels of concentration are different.”
Maxwell was part of the team that created the teacher pay formula.
The team was well aware that many studies link poverty to student success. But their hands were tied.
Florida lawmakers made it illegal to include poverty in the equation.
“The theory is that whether you come from a very poor and low socioeconomic background or a very high socioeconomic background, the abilities to learn and have student achievement are the same,” Maxwell said.
Federal Law Works Differently
The federal No Child Left Behind law considers poverty when it grades schools.
And policymakers in Tallahassee say that poverty is included in the new grading formula, just in a round-about way.Kathy Hebda, deputy chancellor of the Florida Department of Education, says a students’ previous score on the state’s standardized exam is the most powerful factor in the teachers’ pay formula.
If a student is poor— and being poor affects their performance—then their previous test scores will reflect that, says Hebda. And teachers will only be graded based on how well they help the test scores of poor students improve from the year before.
“Our model includes two prior years test scores, for all students when they’re available,” said Hebda. “You really are getting a good picture of how that student will do.”
Orlando Sarduy, an advanced calculus teacher at Coral Reef High in Miami-Dade, says predicting student scores isn’t an equation. It’s an experiment.
“It’s like measuring the stock market. Past performance is not an indicator of future earnings. How it runs in reality is a different story,” Sarduy said.
It’s an experiment with high stakes.
The new formula determines what teachers like Sarduy get paid and whether they keep their jobs.
You can read the Miami Herald’s story on the formula here.