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The Measure of Success


Denver voters recently endorsed a new teacher pay plan that will reward teachers for student learning gains — instead of for their number of years in the classroom.

Under the new ProComp plan, teachers will be rewarded based on improved test scores and also for choosing to teach in schools and fields where they are needed most. Traditionally, teachers have been paid based on other factors like years of experience and college credits.

While some people see the advent of incentive pay as a long-overdue improvement, others are concerned that such a plan will be difficult to implement and unfair to teachers who may be limited by their specific assignments, and will encourage teachers to "teach to tests."

In a country that so highly esteems merit-based systems, is it only fair to reward teachers for results rather than time spent? How should we determine teacher salaries?


Nichols and Berliner have documented the abuses and manuevers by administrators and teachers in the name of higher test scores. Merit pay for improved test scores will cement continued abuse of testing procedures in the name of higher pay. This merit pay will not assure better teaching and learning.

I am not opposed to the idea of merit pay in theory, but I wonder how such a pay plan can be implemented. How will it be set up and monitored? On what basis will the merit be placed? Improved test scores? Does this mean from year to year? The 9th grade science students typically have a completely different subject matter than the 10th grade students. Or a pretest - post test for each subject? What kind of test? Who constructs the test? Learning is rarely linear. How do you determine the pay for the art teacher or the gym teacher? Before we can discuss the idea of merit pay, don't we need to establish some criteria?

Teachers' salary should be based on the efforts they make for quality products and not on the number of graduates they produce. Indicators for quality effort should be developed and the teachers' effort should be mesured against them. Otherwise teachers will be exam-oriented and not education-oriented. This has already been a problem world-wide in private institutions.

I'm most concerned that some value-added measures will be used to identify teachers who are doing the best. There are all sorts of measurement and logistics problems that are inherent in such a system. Even if these were to be overcome (unlikely), the result will be to raise even further the stakes associated with the use of standardized achievement tests. Why would we want to do this?

My children are in a school district whose demographics have become increasingly diverse over the past 10 years. Many children come to school and don't speak much English, and their parents don't speak any English.

Given that snapshot, you can imagine what the average classroom looks like and how many different levels of skills the classroom teacher has to try to manage. Of course, the students that need the most help will get the most attention so that the TEST SCORES can be raised, and those students that need enrichment (all 3 of mine do) will be ignored even moreso than before.

I despise this merit system and I have to wonder if the people who put this "rule" in place have ever spent a week in a classroom full of kids with all different backgrounds and skill levels.

Why would any gifted student want to go into teaching, then, as a career, with all of these pressures - and on top of it be paid a minimal salary.

I've never been a teacher; I've just been an active parent, and I've seen many, many good teachers LEAVE because they were tired of "teaching to the test."

As a parent of students that needed enrichment, I feel that my "special needs" children were shoved aside, and fortunately for our family, I had the time to put together some enrichment activities for them at home. But it's not the same as being able to sit in a classroom with your peers and learn exciting things from a teacher.

Shame on the Denver voters.

I believe that key information is left out entirely when evaluating educators, Student/Parent voice. I know this position is not likely popular and raises a great deal of fear, but when student/parent voice is used, the results are better. Universities use it successfully. Who else is in the classroom daily? Who really experiences and is impacted by educator performance? Why can't we develop a system of feedback that is used for improvement?

If we used a rubric type of teacher advancement and required certain efforts to be made such as parent communication, efforts beyond the classroom (not necessarily additional coursework) etc. would it not require effort on behalf of the teacher and an awareness of additional responsibilities. Student performance soley is not the answer as what about those very talented teachers who teach at risk, special ed, etc. Length of employment does not consider skill, it assumes experience brings it, but we know that is not always true.

Incentive pay, though it seems like a positive spur towards classroom success, can be difficult to pay out fairly. Teachers with high performing students may have an easier time making the grade then teachers in more challenging situations. Basing merit on student output neglects the starting points that each student/teacher begins with. A fourth grade teacher could end up be rewarded for the work, for instance of a third grade teacher. Merit should be based on more factors, such as observation, continuous success and time on the job. K-12 teachers have too long lagged behind University professors in the gaining of professional status. Teacher preparation programs should be nationally acredited and merit should be awarded for work in the classroom, not based on test scores. The test of any teacher is how well that teacher deals with the students they get in any given year and merit should involve studies over several school terms.

"In a country that so highly esteems merit-based systems, is it only fair to reward teachers for results rather than time spent? How should we determine teacher salaries?"

One aspect of the several education-related problems in the country is the fixation with so-called merit systems. What is the operating theory here? Does it hold true? How has it been measured? Does the outcome depend on the method of measurement, the thing being measured, the method of viewing, or the random effects of variation in the system? Some of the above? None of the above?

In a system there will be some who perform differently at different times; not better, but differently. Why? Events and occurrences and random variation will make collection of data appear to indicate one exceeding another at different time periods. Since the teachers are not in control of the processes and procedures, they cannot impact the outcomes. Some will look better than others and will get "merit" pay or bonuses, though they do not merit such on an objective scale. The next period may show another teacher "meriting" a bonus. Likewise, the only thing occurring here would be random variation in the operation of the system, not anything the teacher did which might be measured or measurable.

Perhaps too much time is being spent watching The Apprentice? What to do? Learn more about what systems, including the school SYSTEM, is doing. Otherwise, each entity (school, teacher, student, administrator, district, school board, state administrator, etc.) is merely an independent actor, subject to comparison and contrast. On the other hand, if they are not independent actors, but components within an interactive system, each and all will be subject to systems variation, and not subject to comparison and/or contrast. Certainly not subject to merit pay or other smoke and mirrors schemes for which some will be grateful, and others angry.

The country appears to be hooked on speed; a higher number observed today is taken to mean that the subjects of observation are themselves different. The system will only do what the system has been set up and allowed to do, and not more. Remember, I'm not talking about the system undefined but rather the public school system. It is a system, isn't it, however poorly understood, and inappropriately administered.

Here we are again. Like travelers in outer space, have once again ventured into territories that should be considered "off limits."

Simply pay teachers the saleries to which they are entitled. Their pay should be assessed from experience, and not how well they put on a classroom show. There are too many variables here, forinstance: Two teachers may be very effective in their classrooms, but one of the two will receive additional merit because he/she is very dynamic, or receives a "good" report card from a parent, or worse yet, a student.

Teachers are supposed to be the graders; however, it seems as if they are always the ones receiving the grades themselves. Absurd!

The "baby-boomers" are at it again. They have reduced our social institutions to the lowest common denominator, and continue use authority figures as emotional punching bags in order to "get what they want!"

Educate the "whole" child, affectively, objectively, spiritually, ethically, mentally, and physically. This is more important than causing teachers any more anxiety than they already have in the profession.

Educators today must dodge many flaming arrows coming at them from all directions. Just keeping their jobs in these political hotbeds is more important than incentive pay.

All teacher salaries must meet standards of other professions. They need to be 12-month positions, with on-going professional development, and not 10-month contests to see who is better than whom on the Educational American Idol stage.

Pay them all well - they'll take it from there!

I have taught for 24 years in Michigan, (mostly "at risk" students. We did miracles with these kids every day. Recently, a teacher commented to me, saying that 85% of the students who finished the year, were not there at the beginning. In other words, an 85% student turnover, during the year! If we were graded by test results, we'd all be poor, as many of these children couldn't even speak English. Although they made fabulous progress, it would not be demonstrated on a test. I agree with Mr. Murphy: Pay them all well.

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Good point Debbie. However, I tend to believe the establishment of such criteria would be impossible to do in a fair manner. I wonder if we couldn't get better results, by simply treating teachers with a much greater dignity and respect. People generally ascend or descend to whatever expectation there is in those near them.

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I was told (haven't done the math myself yet) that if you broke the entire year down - school, teaching and teachers would only account for occupying 17% of a student's total living time. I don't think it is prudent to hold me or anyone accountable through merit pay or any other incentive when I don't have any control over 83% of the other influences in the student's life.

Schools serving the poorest populations experience a great deal of turnover in student population. In one school I taught in, the average class loses half of the students in the course of the school year. How can teacher's be accountable for the test scores of all of their students in the spring?

Merit pay is another business model that does not equate to schools. I'm a career changer/ worked in business for 5 years before becoming an educator. There are times when I approach what I do from a business perspective. However, most of the time, conforming public schools to a business model is apples to oranges. A merit system works as long as there is a standard input, a standard throughput and standard output. Educational reformers and politicians have attempted to standardize output through standards-based reform and accountability. However, the public school system has no control over input. Unlike a private school, we don't get to be picky as to who we teach, and we can't get rid of the "bad apples" as easily either. Throw in special ed law and you really are talking a mess. The throughput is also a joke when you consider inequalities in funding. For those who say money doesn't matter, you're clueless.

I teach 8th grade, self-contained pre-algebra students with learning disabilites. A diagnotic inventory was just completed on each of my kids. I am trying to teach pre-algebra to students who have math skills that range from 2nd to the beginning 6th grade level.

Due to standards-based reform, my assistant principal is telling me I must follow the pacing guide exactly and cover everything at the same pace as the regular/ collaborative groups. I became a teacher to make a difference in students who struggle with learning. I became a special ed teacher because I wanted to work more closely with students and parents. I have a masters from William and Mary and I am in their Doctoral program. I am committed to my students and education. However, my stomach turns when I am told get them proficient enough to pass a test. That has been the approach of every grade level my kids have been in since the 3rd grade. What gains have they truly made? Many have passed the year-end proficiency exam. However, based on teh diagnostic inventory, what have they truly learned?

My students know nothing about how to think mathematically. They don't understand why things work the way they do in math. They just know the procedure for about two weeks but because they've never been allowed to learn the "why" behind the "what and how" they forget what they learn faster than it takes them to get it the first, second or third time--depending on which grade you're talking about.

I am not allowed to teach! I am not allowed to educate! I am not allowed to invest in the lives of struggling learners and make the difference I came into education for! I am here to cover my school's & district's butt, kill/ drill, and watch my students become more and more discouraged each year. Instead of becoming self-sufficient, educated young men and women with hope they move from one year to the next in an exercise of futility as we try to cover all the material so my school can say it "teaches" everything the students will need when in fact little to no real gains are truly made. It kills me that my students are going to be given or most likely denied diplommas based on achievement of material that is too much and too fast for them to grasp. My collaborative/ general ed classes have a difficult enough time attaining to the level demanded by my state in 8th grade math. How much more so my self-contained kids who so desperately want to learn and succeed but are "left behind" a little more each year because schools have to CYA more than focus on genuine learning.

Merit pay would bankrupt just about every special ed teacher in the country. Being a teacher today is like being a vetran during the Veinam War. My hands are tied by policy I had no say in creating, and instead of being provided what I and my students need to win the battle, we are the pawns in a political game in which the ones who ultimately pay the price for failure are the ones we as educators are here to serve. To those who would institute such "reform" my only statement is to get out of my classroom and go do something useful.

If our worth as teachers is measured and paid primarily in accordance with student performance on standardized measures, does that mean all the things I teach my students daily that are not quantifiable are worth-less [pun intended]?

I should like to follow up my statement, and those of two other teachers.

Firstly,I couldn't have said it better than Dan Duncan, "Treat all teachers with dignity and respect." How I missed that important point, I'll never know because this is where it must begin!

Secondly, Patrick Humphrey also said it well with, "I am here to cover my school's & district's butt..." These administrators and school boards, in conjunction with the biggest heap of BS of all - School Report Cards - are so trying to 'L(.)(.)K good to the masses, and they completely ignor the welfare of the student.

We are working in a profession that involves a myriad of "money seekers," in other words, non-educator professionals who see a new way to line their pockets. Politicians, consultants, architects, medical professionals, lawyers, and the list goes on. All of these little ventures are at the expense of the taxpayer, which obviously leave little funding for "true" educational purposes.

I always say, I am glad I am not a newborn or a child, growing up in today's world. I am thankful also, that I am not a teacher just coming into the profession for the first time.

The question is, why did the Denver voters/taxpayers vote for this? What was not working for them in the prior system? Can some type of blended tenure/merit pay system work in public schools?

There are many taxpayers and folks who work in the private sector that are shocked when they find out that once tenured as teacher is almost guaranteed a job for life, regardless of ther performance.

Wow... merit pay based on children's gains??? That is totally unfair! Teachers battle so much - especially "higher" standards and trying to get ALL children to meet them. How unreasonable will education get? This makes no sense at all. I htought Bush was against cloning? It seems like public education is not for everyone because not all children can meet the demands. What ever happened to a diverse society with diverse talents? I can't repair cars or build homes, but I bet there are MANY individuals who can do this without a high school diploma; the talent lies within. Our society has an increased rate of suicide and depression; is it any wonder? Pressure=stress.... and many children are stressed out - not to mention parents and educators. When will the madness end? Some of these individuals who propose these standards for all and this merit pay based on children's progress need to really spend time in today's schools and classrooms ---- then you'd see reality! Today's administrators need to spend time in classrooms as well. I've been teaching nearly 29 years; it never gets easier! Today's child has many needs. Schools are trying to make up for what is not done at home. Poverty is rampant. Many children are on their own when they go home.... no direction, no routine, no support. I don't have the vision that policy makers hold....

In reading the reasons put forth by teacher advocacy groups against merit pay, they would have you believe that all teachers are good at what they do. That is a demonstrably false assertion. What they do not say is that many teachers who are very good at what they do are undercompenstated because of salary increases equally shared with incompetent faculty.
In an industry that is constantly involved with measurement and data analysis, I find it hard to believe that the education community cannot devise its own merit compensation plan which accounts for all of the variables that are present in other forms of performance evaluation. The anti-merit pay education establishment will eventually regret its lack of cooperation with taxpayers and parents. If they do not act they will have merit pay forced on them by legislators who know even less about education than any of the other stakeholders.
Asking for increases in pay for all teachers sounds good, but it just will not wash with the taxpaying public sector.

First let me admit that I have spent time in a classroom--both as a teacher and as a parent-observer (for those who believe that this is a prerequisite for having an opinion).

I am sad to see so much of this discussion at the polar ends of the argument. It's either pay based on test scores or pay based on longevity. Someone suggested student/parent voice--which is something that could be responsibly handled. As we move into an age in which data on all kinds of topics is readily available in many formats, it only makes sense to make use of that in our decision-making, including employee evaluations. And teachers, like it or not, are employees.

The insistence that school and business models don't mix has served to provide an absense of good management training and skills in our school. A "merit system" than relies on a single data element (such as test scores) will serve badly in improving comprehensive education systems. However, Value Added data (showing the increase of this year's students from their level of achievement last year), along with responsible surveys of parent/student views, classroom observation and even peer evaluation can be used to provide a comprehensive analysis of individual teachers that COULD be used in recommending salary increases, but can also be used as a platform for continued growth of the profession.

I am a second year California teacher. The topic of merit pay was brought forth by our governor last year. Not only do I think it is an unreasonable way to treat teachers, I think it will deter many qualified people from joining the profession. We have different students each year, and as the demographics change, how can one year's test scores be compared to another?

As a new teacher I am holding my breath that the government won't put more strain on an already stressful occupation. I don't think anyone becomes a teacher to hurt children.

As a student studyin elementary education, this topic has been brought up several times for discussion. Most of us don't agree with it simply for the fact that most posters have already brought up. Who is to determine which teacher did the actual teaching. A fifth grade student could be outstanding in math just because their fourth grade teacher made such an impact on their learning. The fifth grade teacher, though in accordance with Pro-Comp, would get the merit pay.
As a future educator, the idea of Pro-Comp is troublesome. Learning now how much you are ultimately responsible for already is overwhelming, to add this on top of everything else leaves me breathless. In Florida we teach to test for FCAT. If students don't pass the FCAT, they don't pass their grade. What happened to the idea that teachers were motivators and intriguers. The idea that teaching is in more than books, dittos, and tests has gone out the window along with fun, hands-on learning.
To me, these high-paid politicians need to get out of their pricey, leather desk chairs and see that the education of our society is shown through more than just test scores. Let them spend a month, a week even, in a classroom and see what they think of merit pay or even the unreasonably low base pay that they, along with most other FELLOW

Let them spend a month, a week even, in a classroom and see what they think of merit pay or even the unreasonably low base pay that they, along with most other FELLOW professionals (yes, teachers are professionals), think that teachers deserve.

Wether you believe that teachers deserve to be paid on their merit or not, I agree with Margot that a merit system based soley on test scores is not helpful. I should recommend a book that I recently read called “The Emergency Teacher.” This book exposes the various failures in the school system and was written candidly by a woman who actually taught for a year in an urban middle school. I found it seriously disturbing to read some of the trials that she faced (especially in the special education department) due to a lack of funding and a bureaucratic administration. Thank God that she’s exposing the real issues behind each student’s failure to learn because we often like to blame the students or the parents or even the often poorly prepared teachers, but in the end I believe the problem goes much deeper. We have a government that is not in touch with the real issues keeping schools from succeeding, school boards who are more concerned with maintaining an image of success than of working with the individual children, and an inability to effectively change policy on a grassroots level. It opens your eyes to the reality of the public school system as it now stands. I don’t think it’s in bookstores but I know you can order it directly from her website, www.TheEmergencyTeacher.com.

The biggest mistake I made in my 15 years on our union negotiating team was dismantling a proposal for merit pay. All administrators were in favor and every teacher on the ad hoc committee was in favor, too—except me. The basic idea is so appealing: give the better teachers more pay—they deserve it. Of course, no teacher in favor of such a system ever figures that they won't be included. There are so many unwarranted assumptions that it doesn't take much to unravel the initial proposals. Most of the previous comments saw at once that there is no effective way to manage such a merit system, which will depend on administrator decisions in actual practice.

My mistake was that I should have let it pass through. There is no more effecetive way to teach teachers about the inherent arrogance and caprice of their own grading systems than to subject them to the same kind of grading system. Be honest. Don't you start to cringe as soon as someone starts to explain their grading ssystem in the lounge? I watched a very nice Physics tacher agonize for days over the results from one of his unit exams. 80% of the students were getting D's and F's. When he offered to let them retake the exam, there were few who showed up. I looked at his score distribution drew three lines and said. "Now, 90% have C's or better. The test was too hard." Most teachers are criminally incompetent about even the basics of tests and measures. Few can distinguish between a test's reliability and its validity and virtually no one has ever calculated either measure of any test they have ever given. Only a bare handful have ever done an item analysis of any test they have ever given.

The only real rationale of any grading system is the pure exercise of power. Suggest that teachers be denied the A-B-C-D-F system and be forced to grade on a simple credit/no credit system and watch the reaction. Apparently there is no way to teach without the continual exercise of bribes and threats. So, let's hear it for merit pay. Let such a system operate for only a couple years and it may teach teachers a valuable lesson.

Let's make sure, though, that it works just like teacher grading systems. A select few teachers would get the merit increases. To give too many merit awards would only lower standards. Most teachers would simply maintain their already "generous" stipends for teaching, but another select group (about equal in numbers to those getting the merit pay) should actually be docked pay. This is a zero-sum game, right? I think you can all see where this is headed...

Now, how many of you are averaging percentages? Are you using a formula that weighs the percentages as you average them? Hmmmm...

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