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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 09/14/2009

Readers: Should Teacher Pay Be Linked to Student Test Scores?

By Valerie Strauss

Please post your answer, and I will blog on the best reader comments soon.

The Issue: Most public school teachers are paid today under a system that is close to 90 years old and involves allowing teachers to earn salary increases through experience and additional coursework. There is a "pay for performance" movement that would allow teacher salaries to be linked to how well a teacher does his/her job--especially by how well their students do on standardized tests and on their evaluations.
For one provocative look at this issue, read about New York City's "Rubber Room" in The New Yorker....

By Valerie Strauss  | September 14, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  pay for performance, school reform, teachers  
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No...what if the student had an issue that happened at home and it is so overwhelming for the child that they cannot concentrate that day in school? The teacher has prepared all the students but a few have personal issues going on that are the only thing that they are even thinking about. So the/these students fail the this a sign that this teacher is not a good teacher NO, this is an everyday situation in DC. Some kids witness abuse are abused, weren't feed, no running water in the home, dirty clothing etc....THIS is what is first and formost on these students mind...not a test and it doesn't mean that a teacher cannot teach.

Posted by: | September 14, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Simply pegging teacher salary to his/her student test scores would be an excessively crude measure. That said, though, a measure that takes into account improvement is tested levels could be devised for both the individual teachers and the school administrators as well. Student achievement levels depend on more than just good teaching, but teachers should be held accountable.

Posted by: jbb3rd | September 14, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Done smartly I think it's the only solution. I had a coworker who went to school in China under a clumsy method of this and when he got one of three slots to attend University in Beijing, the entire town celebrated and the teacher got a brand new apartment and bike.

The reality is that great managers know about great objective management techniques. Pay rules no stranger than this are standard procedure in Fortune 500 companies- anyone suggesting that a kid with a bad day will throw off salaries is simply ignorant. It's time to revolutionize teacher pay.

Posted by: bbcrock | September 14, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Among the many problems with teaching is an objective way to measure the quality of instruction. Relying solely on student scores with no mitigating factor creates perverse incentives for teachers to seek out high performing schools with high performing students.

High test scores alone do not show the quality of instruction. Improvements to the relative success of the students on previous year's exam is a sign of quality instruction though. If a teacher helps an underperforming student make up ground, then the teacher should be rewarded.

However, jumps in test scores are not solely a product of quality instruction. Tutoring, remedial course work, individual attention from support specialists, and a variety of other factors may all help increase a student's test score.

Linking job performance to pay is a logical step. Measuring teacher performance is not as easy as test scores though. Along with student improvement, peer evaluations, principle evaluations, and conforming to industry recognized best practices should all be taken into consideration when determining a teacher's salary.

Further, teachers cannot be thrown to the wolves. Adequate support and training for those teachers who are underperforming, but have the desire to succeed must be provided. As it stands now, too many conferences are a waste, and teacher work days are for administrative tasks, not improving instruction.

Finding time in the day or holding teachers meetings after school also removes teachers from students. There are creative solutions to avoid this problem, but as you add job and time requirements to the teaching profession, the pay must also reflect these additional responsibilities. Successful teachers work the hours of surgeons and lawyers, with the same level of expertise. Yet they are not compensated to the same level of these professions. In addition to performance based incentives, baseline standards of teacher pay needs to rise across the board or else highly intelligent people will continue to flock to high prestige, high paying jobs that require the same amount of effort, but have a better work environment and higher compensation.

Posted by: PatrickEwing | September 14, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

If anyone does this, it has to be improvement based. Where does the teacher take the students from where they were at the end of the last year?

I can see how well this will work in PE. Get those kids' times in the one-mile to drop 10 seconds- the teacher will be chasing them!

Posted by: staticvars | September 14, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I don't think teachers should be paid based on test scores at all. If the teacher learns that their pay will be based off of what the scores are going to be like, two things will happen. One, the teacher will find a way for all the students to do good on the test. EX making the tests easier, or practically giving the students the answers so they will do well on the test. The second thing that would happen would be that teachers would drill information into the kid's brains. In order for the teachers to get paid, the students have to do their jobs too! The teachers could get frustrated easily and give the students too much information at once or focus too hard on the child actually making a good test score instead of actually learning the material.

Posted by: robinsonclrch | September 14, 2009 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Valarie, your connection to the New Yorker Rubber Room article was a cheap shot. Its not at all about pay for performance, which tells me that you're dealing with both the pay for performance and the Rubber Room issues in a sensationalist not a serious way. It's important to know what you don't know before attempting to inform the world by making these kinds of supposed connections. The best analysis of the Rubber Room story was by Dan Brown, a DC teacher who writes frequently in the Huffington Post. Here's the link to his infomative piece in the Teacher Leader Network blog.

Posted by: marksimon1 | September 14, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

As a current high school student, I can clearly see the effects of emphasizing testing, particularly standardized testing. When pressured to focus on testing, teachers forgo interesting activities in favor of practice testing. While practicing helps students pass standardized tests, it does not help us retain information. I know that the best teachers I have had are ones whose activities and lessons have stuck with me. Practice tests do not fall under this category.

At my school, and I assume at other schools as well, teachers are periodically observed by administrators for teaching reviews. This supposedly keeps up the standard of teaching in the school. While I have had a few unsatisfactory teachers, for the most part the system seems to be working. In my opinion, there is no accurate objective way to measure teaching because it is subjective. Teachers who cover the same material do so in different ways, depending on their personal style and the needs of their students. Standards across the states, counties, and even schools cannot be uniform because of students' specific needs and circumstances. Subjective analysis requires more work than simply using data, but it is a more fair and accurate way to measure performance.

Posted by: cteitel | September 14, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

First abolish tenure, THEN discuss monetary rewards for BOTH teachers and students based on performance.

Personally, I don't think you have to go beyond the former to see positive results. However, I guess I'm Pollyanna to think that tenure would be abolished in the first place.

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | September 15, 2009 6:26 AM | Report abuse

bbcrock- Operating school districts like Fortune 500 companies would be ridiculous. Rewarding test scores with bonuses creates all the wrong incentives, as we are seeing on Wall Street as well as with school test cheating.

I worked in banking in Texas in the 1980's and most of the Texas bank holding companies failed or were taken over, largely because managers were paid bonuses based on the dollar amount of the loans they booked; they booked bad loans to get the money and then all left town when things went bad. About the current situation with bonuses given out to executives who nearly sent us all down the tubes: 'nuff said.

The fatal flaw with using test scores to evaluate teachers is that there isn't enough concern over what the tests really measure, and they were not designed for evaluating teachers in the first place.

It's clear from your current post, as well as previous posts, that you are clueless about the reality of what goes on in schools and what constitutes good teaching and useful learning. Read some of the posts from teachers and students and consider what they say. Of course, if you just like bashing teachers, there's no point.

Posted by: aed3 | September 15, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Linking pay to performance is a good idea in theory. The real problem is how to to evaluate the performance? There are many issues at stake, but one issue to think about is that the results of good teaching are often not evident for many years. Sometimes it's the quiet, steady, unobtrusive kindergarten or first grade teacher who sets a student up for a lifetime of success.

My first year of teaching, I taught 4th grade. A few students were much better prepared than the others. They weren't inherently smarter and didn't come from more advantaged families--they just had a better knowledge base and better work habits. A few months into the year, it became apparent that they all had the same SECOND grade teacher who felt that certain things needed to be included in the curriculum that were not officialy part of the system. That teacher gave them an advantage that was not apparent until a couple of years later, but it made a huge difference in how they were able to tackle their work--and they did tend to have better test scores. So who should get the money for good scores?

Posted by: aed3 | September 15, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

MarkSimon1: For the sake of accuracy, I did not make the reference to The Rubber Room. An editor added that.

Posted by: straussv | September 16, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

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