Florida Teacher Of The Year Essays

South Florida teacher Julie McCue felt relief Tuesday afternoon in Orlando.

"I feel good," she said.

The day long administrative hearing she attended was years in the making for the veteran teacher now fighting scores on a state test she's been failing since 2015.

McCue, who has 20-plus years of classroom experience and is a two-time nominee for teacher of the year, needs to pass the essay portion of the Florida Educational Leadership Exam (FELE) before the state dept. of education will allow her to earn more for the 4.0 master's degree she recently earned.

"I think the grading process is flawed," she said during a break from the hearing.  McCue decided to formally fight the state after failing the test for the fourth time by one point. 

The test, created by the FDOE, is administered and scored by international testing giant Pearson Vue.  The essay portion of the FELE is just one of a series of teacher tests many examinees are now struggling to pass.  Portions of the FELE and the Florida Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE) underwent a series of revisions a few years ago and have since resulted in more failures than ever before.

While the state acknowledged making the tests more difficult to align with more rigorous students tests,  the FDOE maintains Pearson's scoring process is extremely detailed and thorough.  At one point during the hearing, FDOE's attorney said "the idea of human error is beyond belief."

Dr. Christopher Small, a Principal for a middle school in Tallahassee and chief reviewer for Pearson, was among a total of 8 people who graded or reviewed McCue's last essay after she challenged it through a score verification session.  He agreed with the original graders who gave McCue a score of 6.  7 is a passing score.  Small became a chief reviewer after being a reviewer for Pearson.  

In the last two years, Small estimated reviewing roughly 20-25 FELE essays, spending approximately 3-4 hours reviewing a test.  In the last two years, he hasn't overturn any of tests he's been asked to review.  Of 160 FELE tests challenged by test takers last year, none resulted in scores being overturned.

No one from the FDOE would comment at the hearing, but Julie did and won't stop until she gets the grade, she believes she earned.

The administrative judge will not issue a recommended order on McCue's case for, at least, another 30 days.  Once a recommended order is issued, the Education Practices Commission will issue the final order.


Click or scroll below to read the transcripts from the public portions of the hearings.


Follow our FTCE/FELE coverage and watch all previous stories





TAMPA — Diane McKee, an English teacher at Hillsborough's Williams Middle Magnet School, is not just the school district's top teacher.

Now she's Florida's teacher of the year.

McKee, 58, who was chosen from more than 190,000 public school teachers statewide, has been on the job for 14 years, 11 of them in Florida. Before that she worked in the private sector and went into teaching full time after working as a substitute.

Accepting the award Thursday at a banquet in Orlando, she said, "I'm honored. I'm humbled."

She also acknowledged her fellow teachers, saying, "It truly takes a village. And it takes all of us to make that happen."

The yearly award is given by the Florida Department of Education and the Macy's retail chain, which sponsored the event.

It is the second time in recent years that the honor went to a Hillsborough teacher. Megan Allen, a fourth-grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary, was the state's top teacher in 2010.

"I'm just so excited," School Board chairwoman Susan Valdes said, hearing the news.

"Clearly we've had such amazing teachers out of Hillsborough County. This is an exciting opportunity for Diane and for the district."

In her essay for the Hillsborough competition, McKee described her determination to help her students write well enough to excel on state tests. She created and ran tutorials after school and at lunch. Top scores in the county and state came as a result.

To strengthen relationships with students and their families, she makes it a point to get out of the school and into their lives.

"The true connection evolves when I attend students' concerts at the University of South Florida, vocal performances at nursing homes, bake sales in the park, and religious ceremonies," she wrote.

"Parents, like students, need confirmation that I believe in their child's abilities and will continue to support the development of the whole child beyond the classroom."

McKee wanted a visual in the classroom for her high expectations. So she hung a red bar from the ceiling at the entrance to her door. Throughout the year, the rope was shortened to raise the bar farther out of her students' reach.

"Figuratively, the students have discovered that the bar symbolizes how we only expand our horizons when we stretch our bodies and our minds," she wrote. "This is only possible when we truly believe in our potential."

She was one of five finalists. She will get a year off to travel the state in a speaking tour.

But, McKee said, "One teacher really can't represent a state. It's a phenomenal group of teachers behind me that I've been very blessed to know. Let's all of us go out there and raise the bar."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

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