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Cleveland Overhauls Merit Pay to Avert Strike

While many of the details of a last-minute contract deal hashed out between the Cleveland school district and its teachers' union remain murky, it's now clear that the district has agreed to completely overhaul its merit-pay system.

Since 2013, the district has been deciding which educators got raises solely based on ratings from teacher evaluations, which were largely derived from students' test scores. Under the new deal, which averted a planned strike, the district will continue to have a merit-pay system, which is required by state law, but only teachers with the worst evaluation rating won't be given raises, reports The Plain Dealer.

According to the newspaper, the new three-year deal would give uniform raises to every teacher who isn't rated ineffective. Last school year, just 1 percent of teachers were given that rating, down from 4 percent the year before. In addition to those pay raises, the new plan will give teachers who score the highest rating a $4,000 bonus, fulfilling the state's merit-pay requirements.

Teachers will move up a defined pay ladder every two years if they don't recieve a rating of ineffective, moving the district back to a more conventional pay scale. 

"It's more traditional," Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke told The Plain Dealer. "Teachers will move every two years if they're not ineffective. It takes a lot of pressure off the evaluation system."

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon stressed to the newspaper that the new system is still a merit-pay plan, but added that, "Reasonable people should learn from their lessons and make improvements."

This seems to be a lesson that policymakers around the country are learning, as districts and states have come to rethink how student test scores are used to reward or punish educators. As Education Week's Stephen Sawchuk reported earlier this year, after the passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which explicitly establishes that states need not have teacher-evaluation systems that heavily rely on student test scores, some states have started to reconsider the role of tests in evaluating educators.

While the Cleveland deal doesn't alter the weight placed on testing in teacher evaluations, it does lower the stakes attached to those tests for teachers.  Additionally, StateImpact Ohio reports that the tentative agreement also has provisions that reduce the amount of student testing.

While Cleveland's tentative deal revamps how teacher pay will be determined, how much teachers will be paid will continue to be an open question for at least another few months.The district and the teachers union will start negotiating pay after Cleveland residents vote on whether to renew a tax that puts $65 million a year into the district's coffers. Residents will vote on the levy in November.   

Full details of the new contract is expected after CTU members' votes are tallied on September 22nd, reports StateImpact Ohio.


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