Florida teachers have received instructions for seeking the new and controversial Best and Brightest scholarships that are directly tied to an educator's own performance on the SAT or ACT. While they are called scholarships, the awards are not for continuing education and are actually a bonus -- up to $10,000 -- that is paid in addition to a teacher's annual salary.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Monday that Florida's Department of Education sent out the official guidelines for how teachers can apply for the money, which is awarded based on performance evaluations and the standardized test scores. The major takeaway is that if a teacher's past performance on the standardized tests -- likely taken in high school -- does not meet requirements, the teacher can retake the SAT or ACT. The instructions also stated that the most recent evaluations of the teacher count and that the deadline for applications is Oct. 1.
To qualify for the bonus, a teacher has to perform at or above the 80th percentile on the ACT or SAT, the standardized tests dreaded by high schoolers everywhere. On the 2,400-point SAT system, a score of 1,780 was the 80th percentile cut-off line for 2014 college-bound seniors, according to data from The College Board. For context, the University of Florida's admitted freshman class of students in 2014 had a middle 50 percent SAT score range of 1810-2060. The middle 50 percent is the range of scores from the 25th percentile through the 75th percentile in a class and is a measurement that provides a snapshot of what a common admitted student usually scores.
Teachers also have to receive a "highly effective" evaluation to be eligible. Should a teacher be awarded the bonus, it could be worth up to $10,000, but the exact figure depends on how many of the Best and Brightest scholarships end up being given out.
The idea for the scholarships, proposed by state Rep. Erik Fresen, first gained little support from the state Senate but eventually passed after it became one of the final trade-offs in Florida's education spending plan, the Tampa Bay Times reported in June. The state set aside more than $44 million for the bonuses that became unpopular among some teachers. At the time, however, it was not known that teachers could retake the exams. Lawmakers had previously supported rewarding outcomes and had stopped allowing for higher salaries for advanced degrees or added salary for a National Board certification. Many were upset that tests from high school -- that perhaps were not a great indicator of teaching abilities -- would help determine a teacher's income.
Fresen told the Miami Herald in June that estimates suggested about 4,400 teachers would qualify for the scholarships. Fresen told the paper he wanted to recruit the best students to become teachers by boosting their potential starting salary while also retaining the top already in the field. First-year teachers who have yet to be evaluated will still be eligible if their SAT or ACT scores qualify. The average teacher salary for Florida in 2014-15 was $47,950, according to the Florida Department of Education.