National News

Hundreds of FL teachers fired over state test they keep failing

Posted July 7

— This summer school districts across the state are working to fill classrooms with teachers but we've discovered the state's certification test isn't helping districts recruit teachers, it's leaving many with even more empty teacher slots to fill.

"Forty-five questions is not a measurement of me being a competent educator," said Kathleen Moss of Pinellas County.

"It angers me that a test decides my worth," said Debbie Brooker of Pasco County.

"People tell me one window closes another will open. In this situation, I'm not willing to let this window close," said Claudia Borges.

They are Florida teachers who just lost the title.

"It's terrible," said Brooker, a former social worker turned teacher who was just fired after 3 years of teaching K-6 Special Ed at a Title I school on a temporary certificate.

Special education teacher, single mom and temporary teaching certificate-holder Kathleen Moss also received her pink slip last week, despite her master's degree and 30 years working with children.

"I always knew teaching is what I was supposed to be, what I was called to do," she said.

Known as the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, it's a battery of "must pass" teacher tests to get a permanent license to teach here.

But after a series of revisions made the tests harder in 2015, failures among examinees are higher than ever.

Math, for example. went from an 80% passing rate in 2014 to a 57% passing rate last year.

Numbers that didn't add up for Debbie, Kathleen and Claudia Borges in Hillsborough County. She's one of nearly two dozen teachers the school district was just forced to fire because they couldn't pass the FTCE. In Borges' case, the kindergarten teacher has struggled to pass the math section after taking the test four times.

"I'm not even going to use this as a kindergarten teacher," she told us recently.

"It's always difficult to deal with when we have to terminate a teacher over testing rules but we do have to follow state law and the state requirement of passing those exams in a timely fashion," said Scott Richman, a recruiter for the Hillsborough County School District.

The district is already on the hunt to fill 500 teacher slots by August.

Across the state, school districts have little options for teachers who can't pass the FTCE. As of last month, Miami-Dade County had 75 teachers at risk of losing their teaching jobs. Broward County was looking at 153 losses due to FTCE failures. St. Lucie County already gave pink slips to 17 teachers, Palm Beach County fired 80 and Polk County was forced to fire 79 teachers who had proven records in the classroom, but haven't been able to pass the state's teacher test.

"We never want to see a teacher go, especially if they're an effective or highly effective teacher," said Polk County School District's Human Resources Director Annissa Wilfalk. "Our hands are tied," she said.

A test designed to attract the highest quality is now forcing many students, districts and teachers to start all over.

"I don't think I failed but in their eyes I did and there's something wrong with that picture. There really, really is," said Debbie Brooker.

Teachers still have the rest of the summer to take and pass the FTCE test.

The Florida Department of Education stands by its revisions to the tests and the increase in failure rates.

The department recently sent us a DVD detailing its reasons why. Among key highlights from the information they provided:

- All revisions including new passing rates on the FTCE tests were made after the department consulted with dozens of industry insiders including college and school district personnel including teachers and administrative staff at various levels of Florida's educational systems.

- All revisions were approved by the Board of Education.

- The FLDOE anticipated an increase in failure rates. (The department expected scores to balance out by Spring 2016, which hasnít happened yet).

- The FLDOE is constantly monitoring the tests and examinee scores and is currently working with its testing contractor, Pearson to review portions of the exam. Pearson is also currently conducting a series of pilot tests on some of the FTCE tests including the GK exam.

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