by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
In the first experiment of its kind in the state, two California school districts were given federal five-year grants in 2011 to provide teachers with bonuses of up to $5,000 based in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. The districts received millions in federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants to implement their new evaluation programs, with merit pay a component.
Did it pay off?
An exclusive CTA look at this experiment shows mixed results for test scores. API scores in one district went down by 3 points, comparing 2013 to 2012. The other district’s scores rose by 9 points. CTA chapter presidents from both districts agree that merit pay caused unhappiness among their members.
The first district is Lucia Mar Unified in San Luis Obispo County, a suburban district that serves 10,600 students in 18 schools. Staff at seven schools voted to implement the program, where teachers are evaluated three times a year (two announced and one unannounced) based on the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, created by the Santa Monica-based National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Pay raises are tied to evaluations as well as test scores.
The district received $7.2 million for the program, says Donna Kandel, president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association, and much of it goes to pay for master teachers and mentor teachers, who receive extra pay to evaluate their peers.
Under the formula, 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score is based on how much students improve academically, and another 20 percent on how the entire school improves. Despite the drop in overall school and district scores, many teachers got extra money based on individual test scores and positive evaluations, with one teacher getting more than $5,000, says Kandel.
Districtwide, the API score went from a base of 819 in 2012 to 816 in 2013. Six out of seven schools had lower scores in 2013 than 2012. Grover Heights Elementary School dropped from 862 to 841, and staff opted out of the program.
“I guess you could say it was not a resounding success, if you measure it by TAP’s own metric, which is standardized test scores,” says Kandel, who was not president when this was bargained into place three years ago. “Merit pay has been harmful for morale and divisive. It’s created competition between teachers and cut away at collegiality and a sense of cohesiveness in our membership.”
The evaluation component of the grant has also caused controversy, she adds. The peer evaluations by master and mentor teachers are not supposed to go into a teacher’s personnel file, but there is “concern” that these evaluations indirectly influence regular evaluations under the Stull Act, because mentor and master teachers confer with administrators regarding peer performance.
The grant ends in 2015, and many teachers are anxious for it to be over, says Kandel.
The administration, however, would like to continue some of the evaluation practices that were a part of the grant and pay extra for teacher coaches districtwide, even though under TAP scores dropped and teachers haven’t gotten a pay raise in years. Negotiations are ongoing.
“I guess you can say this grant has opened the door to a lot of things,” says Kandel.
Rural Humboldt Union High School District, which has only 1,400 students and two high schools, received a $4.5 million TIF grant for a new evaluation system and merit pay. Scores went from 770 in 2012 to 779 in 2013.
The district took a different approach. To determine how much a teacher contributes to a student’s academic success, local assessments are compared at the beginning and end of the school year. The compensation formulation is also based upon peer observations and STAR scores.
Doug Johnson, president of the North Humboldt High School Teachers Association, says teachers agreed to the deal to save jobs when layoffs were looming, but some have “soured” on the grant in the meantime.
“It saved jobs and provided teachers with the possibility of a pay increase at a time when we saw little possibility of getting a raise from the state. That made it a little more digestible.”
Johnson says the system may have some benefit, since district scores went up 9 points, but he personally does not believe in paying teachers based on their test scores, and he thinks most of his colleagues feel the same way.
“We all know there are things that happen on any given day with students that teachers can’t control. Also, you can have one stellar class this year, and a different population the next year. To expect student performance to dictate teacher salaries is not prudent policy.”
Editor’s note: CTA believes merit pay is flawed in concept. Where it has been tried, it has proved to be a detriment rather than a stimulus to better education. CTA is open to consideration of alternative pay plans as determined by the local associations through the collective bargaining process. To read CTA’s policies, go to www.cta.org/orghandbook.
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