Starting next school year, public school teachers in Florida will face a new reality: their base salary, potential merit pay, and job status will depend largely on evaluations based on how students perform on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.
Some teachers welcome the changes.
"I do think they're a move in the right direction," said math teacher Phyllis Bellinger. "There should be accountability across the board."
Language arts teacher Lynn Bryan sees the new evaluation system as an opportunity.
"It's nice to have a chance, we didn't even have a chance before to make any extra money or bonuses, at least now we have a chance," Bryan said.
But for many educators, the evaluation system is broken before it even kicks in.
"It's not fair, I feel that we are not being evaluated fairly since all of the students' needs are not being taken into account," said first grade teacher Lydia Martinez.
Here's how the evaluation system works: half of the teacher's score comes from what the principal sees watching the teacher at work in the classroom. the other half is based on a complex formula called the Value Added Model. It predicts how kids should perform on the FCAT, then it ranks teachers based on how well the students actually do on the test.
"It needs to be thrown out," says Karen Aronowitz, the former president of the United Teachers of Dade.
She and other critics of the evaluation process say the biggest, obvious flaw is that some teachers will be evaluated based on subjects they don't teach, based on the performance of students who are never in their classrooms.
"Does that make any sense to anybody?" Aronowitz asks. "It doesn't make sense to us."
"That is absolutely insane," agrees Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools. "There ought to be a very strict relationship between students that a teacher teaches and their performance, and recognizing there are factors that need to be taken into account like disability, poverty, parental engagement, and the English language needs of students."
Carvalho is an outspoken critic of the evaluation system, echoing Aronowitz on this issue.
"We're acting as if teaching is a manufacturing job, and we can manufacture test scores for students, very often not even the students we teach, and that's not how education works," Aronowitz said.
For example, Maurice Restrepo teaches 7th grade civics. There's no FCAT for his subject, or for a host of other subjects, such as art, music, physical education, and more. So teachers in non-FCAT fields are evaluated on how their whole school performs on the reading portion of the FCAT.
"We need to be evaluated, at the very least, on what we're teaching, not on what other people are teaching and it's a completely unfair system," Restrepo said.
Beyond how the evaluations are done, the raw numbers from last school year, when the new formula was tested, seem questionable. Miami-Dade is Florida's highest-performing school district and by many measures, one of the top five urban districts in the nation. Yet only 4.2% of Miami-Dade teachers ranked as the highest level, "highly effective". Only 7.5% of Broward's teachers earned the top mark. In comparison, more than 40% got there in Hillsborough County, and 90% of Flagler County's teachers are "highly effective."
"I think when you look around the state, some of those are inflated," said Dr. Christine Master of the Miami-Dade School District.
Dozens of "A"-rated schools in Miami-Dade county have zero "highly effective" teachers.
"So there is something inherently wrong with this model as it's being implemented statewide," Master said.
If parents want to figure out where their child's teacher stands, they're out of luck. The state is not yet posting evaluation scores for individual teachers. The question is, how much will those scores really tell anyone about how well a teacher actually performs in the classroom?