One way to ensure that teachers take standardised tests seriously is to introduce merit pay based on the scores of their students. However the assumption that merit pay will encourage teachers to improve their teaching is faulted and experts are far from convinced that merit pay or performance pay increases student learning.
In the US, merit pay for teachers based on student performance is a priority for President Obama. His administration is using almost $5billion in federal money to persuade states to adopt his education priorities. Already California and Wisconsin have lifted bans on tying teacher pay to student performance in return for federal funds. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that he will make student test results the basis for teaching tenure and ask the state government to require this in all school districts.
In May 2010 Colarado made teachers tenure dependent on student test results "and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments." In New York, new teachers will be evaluated for tenure on the basis of student test results and in Houston, experienced teachers may be dismissed for poor test results.
The National Education Association, a teachers' union, supports pay bonuses for teachers with extra qualifications, teachers who take on additional responsibilities, and teachers who teach in schools that have difficulty attracting teachers, but they are opposed to pay based on student performance. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was booed and hissed when he tried to argue the case for merit pay at one of the NEA's meetings.
The idea of measuring teacher performance on the basis of their student's improving test scores is flawed because of the natural variability between classes of students over time. One analysis of value-added scores for New York teachers found that there was a 40 point difference over four years for one in four teachers for the same subject. Cathy O'Neill claims that this:
Reference: Panaj Mehta, ‘Big Data Isn’t Just Watching You—It’s Making You Poorer’, In These Times, 6 September 2016.
"suggests that the evaluation data is practically random.” O’Neil argues that this is because the value-added model, which relies on predictions of student performance, suffers from a built-in logical flaw: No statistical model can accurately make predictions about a class of 25 or 30 students—the sample size is too small. Yet the high-stakes testing regime continues to wreak havoc on the trajectories of students and teachers alike.
The Australian government planned to introduce merit or performance-based pay for teachers in 2008 and the federal Education Minister was keen to judge teacher merit on the basis of student test results. It is an idea the new Labour government is still keen on. It is supposed to provide an incentive for teachers to perform better but is also a partial recognition that teachers pay has fallen behind other professions as a result of school funding cuts. School principals in Victoria already have part of their salaries dependent on school performance.
However three years of merit pay in Texas, costing $300 million, has achieved no evidence that it achieved gains in student test results.
High stakes testing assumes that teachers and principals do not normally do their best and they have to be bribed or threatened into doing a better job and that students won’t study unless they are offered rewards and punishments. A 1999 business summit on education issued an action statement that said:
To date, our education system has operated with few incentives for success and even fewer consequences for failure. The job security and compensation of teachers and administrators have, in large measure, been disconnected from teachers’ success in improving student achievement. Students, except for the relative handful seeking admission to highly selective colleges and universities, have had little reason to work hard in high school because access to further education or employment has not depended on their performance in school. This must change.
However teaching is not just a matter of hard work and long hours and those who think it is have no understanding of the teaching profession. Teachers tend to be more motivated by the satisfactions of a job well done, and being able to help children to develop, than by extra margins of pay that depend on the performance of their students in standardised tests.
“Introducing crude monetary incentives”, and at the same time depriving teachers of basic resources to enable them to do their jobs properly, can distort the whole process of teaching, encouraging “staff to compete rather than cooperate with each other” and to focus on preparing students for tests rather than inspiring children to learn and encouraging creativity and curiosity.
A study of the use of bonuses in New York City public schools by Columbia University economists found that there was no improvement in "student achievement, teacher instructional technique or absenteeism, or the quality of the teaching pool for the majority of schools".
Preliminary results of another study in Chicago also found no student achievement gains from a teacher performance-based compensation program.
A study by the National Center on Peformance Incentives found in 2010 that "While the general trend in middle school mathematics performance was upward over the period of the project, students of teachers randomly assigned to the treatment group (eligible for bonuses) did not outperform students whose teachers were assigned to the control group (not eligible for bonuses)."
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