Teacher Testing Problems in the Sunshine State

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A Florida newspaper, The Herald Tribune, is carrying a must-read expose this week about the large numbers of employed teachers in the state who haven't passed the state's licensing exams and the lengths state education officials were willing to go to in order to block their investigation.

Forget complicated federal laws and defining highly qualified teachers; we just need some ace reporters. Every time a newspaper decides to investigate teacher performance on licensing tests, the results are awful. Massachusetts, Chicago, New York, Pennsylvania, now Florida. Depressing. Unacceptable. Every time we learn that it is poor and minority children who are taught by the lowest performing teachers (two teachers, albeit gym teachers, tried to pass 59 times!) but we also learn no school escapes the problem. Nearly every school in every county in the state was employing a teacher who had failed.

One language arts teacher failed the test 40 times; she's now been teaching 10 years.

The Herald Tribune had to sue the Florida's Department of Education to get this study done, waiting nearly a year for the state to generate readily accessible lists from their data management systems. First the Department tried to argue that the newspaper didn't get it, that performance on these certification tests was irrelevant to a teacher's caliber (so why do them?). Then they conceded that there might be an impact on students when assigned to a teacher who failed four times or more. The paper shot back later with evidence showing both that Florida teachers nominated for Teacher of the Year by their districts did significantly better on these tests than any other group and also that Florida's worst performing schools employed the worst performing teachers.

At one point State Commissioner Jim Horne sent out an email to teachers across the state urging them to cry fowl over the newspaper's request. Buoyed by vocal teachers, the state legislature even got in on the act, passing a bill that would have foiled the newspaper's efforts but which the newspaper got a judge to overturn.

Horne condemned the Herald Tribune last summer for requesting the test scores claiming that, "time spent on such tasks is time taken away from increasing student achievement among all Florida's students."

It took the Herald-Tribune less than an hour to do the same analysis Horne said would be too time-consuming for the state to perform.