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Teacher Pay Reform: and the measure of teacher effectiveness

School systems in New York City, Denver and Houston all offer compensation packages that reward teacher performance. Several states, like Florida, Minnesota and Texas, have allowed millions of dollars to performance pay to teachers. In 2009, the Obama administration designated a substantial portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the development and implementation of teacher pay-for-performance programs.
The popularity of these programs lies in what some see as a link between well-designed performance pay plans and improved teacher effectiveness. Proponents reason that effective teachers should be rewarded. They also argue that rewards can attract more qualified applicants to teaching, especially in hard-to-staff subjects or schools. Finally, supporters believe pay-for-performance programs encourage less effective teachers to improve and will reduce teacher turnover.
Challenges do exist though. Most current is the difficulty of measuring teacher performance. Even in states and districts using value-added measures, to make sure accurate student-teacher links and data systems are developed enough to make high-stakes personnel decisions can be difficult. Critics also contend that individual performance awards may negatively affect the collaboration among professionals that is essential to teaching, particularly if the award structure sets up teachers competing against one another for bonuses.

Other arguments against performance pay programs involves the issue of multitasking. True is gives the multidimensional nature of teaching, how is it possible to implement a program that captures all of the important roles school personnel play? Focusing on too few dimensions could result in a narrowing of the curriculum, better known as teaching to the test.

Despite the relatively thin knowledge base around the design, implementation and operation of performance pay in education, a few key ideas are emerging as school districts put in place pay-for-performance plans and researchers evaluate those efforts. It’s possible to distill some lessons that have been learned from recent incentive pay programs in an effort to better inform superintendents and their school boards as they examine potential implementation.

As research progresses around performance pay, six key elements are emerging:

•  the importance of gathering a performance pay program in a district’s larger reform priority list and setting  it to key district priorities;

•  the need for ongoing, affective communication about all areas of the program;

•  the need of stakeholder involvement at all levels of the program;

•  the need of stable funding streams and meaningfull rewards;

•  the importance of many, well defined performance measures centered on district goals and priorities; and

•  the importance of sophisticated, well managed and maintained data systems.

One of the most challenging aspects of developing a performance pay program is how the program measures teacher effectiveness. The majority of performance pay programs today rely on standardized achievement test (SAT) scores as their primary device of measurement. This has been the case for many years; arguments emerge as to whether test scores are a valid and reliable measure of performance. These arguments have intensified as greater stakes are placed on scores from standardized tests.

Critics of pay for performance say the unfairness of a single test being used as the measure of teacher affectiveness and bonuses. But according to a 2008 publication from the Center for Educator Compensation Reform, approximately 69 percent of teachers teach courses that are not covered by a standardized assessment. This could be an issue.  While sophisticated value-added measures hold promise for measuring teacher affectiveness, these criticisms and concerns point to the need to incorporate multiple measures of teacher affectiveness into a pay for performance program.

Other measures of teacher effectiveness do exist. Teachers participating in Denver’s ProComp and Austin’s REACH work with their principal to develop two individualized, data-based learning goals for students. In New York City’s School Wide Performance Bonus Program, a school’s standing is determined, on the basis of student attendance and student, parent and teacher perceptions of the school learning environment.

But as education research, practice and policy remain to cooperate on the design and development of other measures of teacher effectiveness, involving classroom observation procedures, there is much work to be done before reliable, maintained measures are always available.

After measures are clearly found, a well devised data system is critical to the success of the program. Some district and state operated information systems are incapable to handle the data necessary to administer a teacher pay for performance program. The data is often retrieved from district and state information systems also are often muddled with errors that can wreak chaos on the operation of a performance pay or teacher bonus program.

I feel that the only way to reform teacher compensation is to have indivual class performance tests to show that the teachers are making progress so that they may receive bonuses or incentives. The best way to do this would be to have the teachers offer the curriculum they are attempting to teach and then at the end of the school year have a classroom test over that material that was being taught. In this way you kill two birds with one stone, you find out if the teachers are making progress to receive their extra compensation and you find out if the students are really learning the material. Also you find out the quality of the teachers in this way because if they are teaching well and the students are learning then the quality of that teacher must be above average.

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