07/17/2012 03:46 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2012

Florida Merit Pay Law, Evaluation System Doesn't Sit Well With Teachers

Florida’s new teacher evaluation system has come under fire by teachers across the state, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

As part of a controversial teacher merit-pay law adopted by the Florida Legislature last year, half of a teacher’s evaluation is now based on student test score data, and the other half on a new, more detailed method of observing teachers in action.

The law took effect last July, which means the new assessment system was put to use during the 2011-12 school year. It requires that test-score information be used to help judge teacher quality and eventually help determine pay.

Despite recently being honored in Washington, D.C. as one of the nation’s best math and science educators, high-school chemistry teacher Steve Fannin was identified as a "beginning" teacher by a mid-year evaluation.

The mediocre review stemmed from Fannin erasing the day’s "learning goal" from his board while teaching a chemistry lesson.

"It's just been real frustrating all the way around," Fannin told the Sentinel. "I don't see how that promotes innovation. I don't see how that helps student learning."

Some teachers who spoke to the paper said they felt they were being judged primarily on whether their students used hand gestures to indicate how well they had learned something, and on whether they wrote "learning goals" on the board every day.

"It's been humiliating for a lot of extremely accomplished people," said Mary Louise Wells, who was one of five finalists for the state teacher of the year award in 2002.

Florida allocated $4.7 million of its federal Race to the Top money to design its evaluation model, which was developed by education researcher Robert Marzano and has been adopted by 31 school districts.

The move in Florida is among a growing number of states across the country that have adopted teacher evaluation systems heavily weighted in student testing. For the first time in Indiana, student test scores will be factored into teacher pay raise decisions. In Tennessee, a new report has found that the state's schools "systematically failed" to identify low-performing teachers through their evaluations system, which includes measurements of student test score improvement and principal assessments, according to StateImpact.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has also repeated his support for merit pay, noting that educators should have starting salaries of $60,000 and the opportunity to earn up to $150,000 annually based on performance.