Florida is putting teachers to the test when it comes to their paychecks, as this year's FCAT scores will now help determine their bonuses.
A new state law grades teachers at least fifty percent on principal observation, and the remainder on student performance on exams like the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
It's a good thing, says Miami-Dade School District's Race to the Top Director, Thomas Fisher.
"You can understand where your strengths are, where weaknesses are, and improve the connection to student learning," said Fisher.
He notes it will show teachers what they're doing well, and what needs improving.
"You set your goals, you know where you want to be based on the actions you take," said Fisher.
But Hialeah High School teacher Kathy Pham warns the grading method is actually harmful to her students and said she's concerned about what she calls an "over emphasis on test scores."
"The emphasis on teacher quality and teacher effectiveness loses sight of what's actually best for students," said Pham, a writing teacher who has spent 29 years teaching in Miami-Dade. "That's a problem."
United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz further criticized the system.
"It's a waste of time," she said, pointing out teachers must already meet demands like any other job. She cautions a principal's role in evaluations renders the grading too subjective.
Plus, part of a teacher's evaluation will be based on her student's performance in a subject she doesn't teach. Aronowitz notes a writing teacher like Pham, for example, could be penalized for her student's poor math score.
"If there is a feeling that this is based on money, you start to not be concerned about all students, but which students are gonna help with the pay," Aronowitz said. "We never want to look at our students that way."
Her teachers' union joined other groups around the state in filing a lawsuit against the new legislation. A resolution could take months.
Fisher counters that the new system will actually reward good teachers.
"They want to be better," said Fisher. "They want to help their students, so it's a measure that they can take for themselves."
Pham says the evaluations need more balance, fewer testing components.
"Good instruction is good instruction," said Pham. "That is ultimately going to lead to good test scores."
Pham expects to find out her grade sometime next year.