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The idea of linking student achievement to teacher evaluation has been around for quite some time through a variety of titles--merit pay, performance pay, incentive pay, etc.  It's also a concept that gained new traction last week when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released information about the Race to the Top program that the DoE is using to push for state-level changes that favor charter schools, merit pay, and linking student test scores to teachers.

One of the notions that you often here during these discussions is, "The good teachers have nothing to be afraid of." Let's talk about that for a bit.

Last year, for one of my Master's classes, I dug into testing data I had on hand for the first grade team in my building. These are real numbers and real averages with real kids behind them; the test in question is the Measures of Academic Progress, from the Northwest Evaluation Association.

Teacher A: In the fall, her class had an average score of 162.5 on the MAP. In the spring the class average rose to 184.3, an average gain of 21.8 points.

Teacher B: Her fall average was 164.7; her spring average, 183.85, for an increase of 19.15 points.

Teacher C: 169.05 in the fall, 189.35 in the spring, so an average gain of 20.3 points.

Teacher D: An average score of 155.30 points in the fall and 174.85 in the spring. Her fall-to-spring gain, then, was 19.55 points.

With this data, then, you could argue the case for two different teachers as the "winners" in the group. If you look at the average gain, Teacher A is your champion:

  1. Teacher A: 21.8 points
  1. Teacher C: 20.3 points
  1. Teacher D: 19.55 points
  1. Teacher B: 19.15 points

But, if you look at the overall class average at the end of the year, Teacher C is far and away your winner:

  1. Teacher C: 189.35
  1. Teacher A: 184.3
  1. Teacher B: 183.85
  1. Teacher D: 174.85

If we went strictly by these numbers from this year, then, you can see who your quality teachers are. If you were judging solely by the numbers, you might also think that you have a problem with Teacher D--her class average trails the class average of everybody else by almost 10 points, which on the MAP is very nearly an entire year's worth of growth.

But we have to dig even deeper before making a statement about teacher quality, because here the raw numbers aren't telling the whole story.

In the fall, the average score for this test is 164 points. In the spring, the average score is 178. Knowing that, here's some new data to chew on.

In Teacher A's room in the fall, 10 kids scored in the below average range. In the spring, 6 kids scored below average.

In Teacher B's room, 7 kids were below average in the fall, while 3 were below average in the spring.

In Teacher C's room, 6 kids were below average in the fall, and 3 in the spring.

In Teacher D's room, 16 kids were below average in the fall, and 6 tested below average in the spring.

With this new information, you can make two new arguments. First, Teacher B is your best teacher because she had more of her kids cross the finish line (the goal score, 178) than the other teachers did. You could also argue that Teacher D is your best teacher because she lowered her percentage of kids who were below standard more than any of the other teachers did.

So, who is your Most Valuable Teacher?

Is it Teacher A, who added the most value to her class over the course of the year?
Is it Teacher B, who had more of her kids meet the year-end goal?
Is it Teacher C, whose class scored the highest in the spring?
Is it Teacher D, who turned around more failing kids than any of the others?

"Value" is a homophone; there's the value signified by the numbers, but there's also the values of the school, the district, and the state which have to be superimposed atop any effort to link the data to the teacher. If the incentive pay/merit pay/whatever pay in this case goes to only one of the four teachers, you're making a statement about the value of the work the other three did, and it's a pretty lousy thing to say to the other three who also made progress that their success didn't matter as much.

Similarly, can we countenance a system where every one of these teachers is given the bonus money, indicating that they all did a good job? In the eyes of some reformers I could see that being too close to what we do now, where every teacher is assumed to be a good teacher. If a merit pay system is intended to have winners and losers, and to inspire the "less-capable" teachers to emulate the "better" teachers, can we really have a 4-way tie?

These are the questions that have to be answered going forward.

Originally posted to TheRain on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:36 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Teachers want to be the only profession excluded (5+ / 0-)

    from results-based performance grading. Ironic - isn't it?

    •  You obviously missed the point (25+ / 0-)

      that "results-based" performance grading depends upon which results you select to grade.  

      The diarist did an excellent job of laying out the problems here with comparisons between four classes in one school.  Multiply that by 50 states, thousands of school districts, and hundreds of thousands of classrooms.

      In the private sector (where widget-making results-based performance is the norm), when raw material does not meet minimum specifications, that raw material is rejected and sent back to the manufacturer.

      So often in public education, high-quality material is scooped off to private schools.  All other raw material is accepted with all its flaws, and the expectation is that "results-based" performance can be equal.

      I'd like to see a private sector business run that way.

      "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

      by Eman on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:50:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Also, teachers cannot control (16+ / 0-)

        a child's willingness or ability to learn. Children in poverty frequently are ill equipped to sit and learn because they are sick from environmental toxins, hungry, stressed about their safety and uncomfortable in a system that usually denigrates their culture.
        The schools that need the most are getting the least because of basing funding off of testing. They get the least experienced and trained teachers who don't stay out of frustration in their inexperience. Parents won't or can't be involved.
        "Results-based"? Does not even get relied on in the corporate world. Subjective manager evals are more consistently used in my experience.

        -7.50/-7.90 Everyone knows I'm out in left field.

        by WiseFerret on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:00:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You can lead (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          miss SPED

          a horse to water...
          Teachers ought to be graded as a team and the reward should be based on their students progress in the out years.
          Is a coach who never gets any players into the next level considered a success?

          Student like any herd, will and can act perversely, sometime against their own interest. "Lets screw the teacher/school and fail". I know it is not supposed to be rational, but it does happen.

          There is no clear gain for students to perform, even the elite's have legacy programs. How about no driver's license without the grades? No employment at Mickey Ds.

          The military has the best solution: fail tech school and you do everyone the favor of doing most of their crud work for your enlistment.

        •  Shallow objections. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ManhattanMan, Calfacon

          teachers cannot control a child's willingness or ability to learn.

          No, but where every teacher has 100 to 150 kids per year, you can expect over multiple years that the number of motivated and unmotivated, able and unable kids for each teacher will equalize. At least among teachers of comparable student populations. Which brings us to --

          Children in poverty frequently are ill equipped to sit and learn because they are sick from environmental toxins, hungry, stressed about their safety and uncomfortable in a system that usually denigrates their culture.

          Which is why performance-based standards would have to compare teachers of comparable student populations. Some teachers get better results with poor kids than others. Those are the teachers you want to encourage to teach poor kids. Which brings us to --

          The schools that need the most are getting the least because of basing funding off of testing. They get the least experienced and trained teachers who don't stay out of frustration in their inexperience.

          This is a question of how we structure merit pay, not whether we should have it. I know Obama has made noises about rewarding outstanding teachers who agree to move to or stay in schools whose students have the greatest academic needs. Great idea, right? But you can't do it unless you first identify who those outstanding teachers are.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:17:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The objections are shallow... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            HeyMikey

            ...and very easily addressed, but that's not the point.

            The point is to throw up so many little speed-bumps that any reform gets slowed and stalled.  

            Every delaying trick the Republicans are using against Healthcare Reform, they learned from the entrenched opposition to Education Reform.

        •  We have a good understanding... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          not this time

          ...of the socioeconomic factors that are beyond the control of teachers.

          Do results-based rewards but give teachers a "kicker" if they get stuck with tough kids.

      •  nonsence (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shane Hensinger, Calfacon

        Result based performance is obviously complicated in this arena, but the results we are all looking for is improvement...period. Did the child learn enough to progress to the next level. That happens (or not) even if some move to another school, and improvement for each student happens when the teacher does his/her job and helps the student to learn.
        And, the private sector does work that way. When I was in sales, I got to work with idiots and genius' alike. And my 'merit pay' was earned or not, determined by my results at the end of the day. Some teachers surely will be at a disadvantage, just as I was because I sold shoes in Hicksburg, not San Francisco.

        •  Selling shoes isn't close to education (0+ / 0-)

          You illustrate my original point.  When you get a defective shoe, you send it back.  Educators must accept a wide variety of "shoe quality" with no return policy.

          Yes, education can be evaluated.  The original diarist was comparing growth scores which most of the general public haven't even heard of.

          No Teacher Left Standing, as developed in Texas and thrust upon the country by The Shrub reduces every classroom and every school into "a number" which is then published for comparison and remediation purposes, totally ignoring the incoming student population.

          Even sales quotas vary based upon regions served, and shoe store owners have a choice whether or not they think Hicksburg is a viable location.  Educators do not.

          Kinda like comparing the Post Office which must, by law, deliver mail to everyone to UPS and FedEx who can pick and choose to whom they deliver.

          The original diarist did not imply that education should not be evaluated.  S/he simply (and very clearly) pointed out that the "one number fits all" mentality is not the way to do it.

          "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

          by Eman on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 10:19:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Teachers want to be excluded (8+ / 0-)

      from results-based performance for two primary reasons:

      1. They are not sure there is a fair way to evaluate their results.
      1. Teaching is a collaborative effort of an entire faculty and staff of a school, not an inidvidual achievement.  

      So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

      by illinifan17 on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:20:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Case study: my brother (4+ / 0-)

        My brother read significantly below grade level for most of his time in elementary school. A 5th grade teacher happened upon his love of cars, motors and engines and he rapidly started to make up ground: by 7th grade he was solidly on grade level reading. He has now finished his 25th year as a Mercedes repair tech.

        My point here is that his 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade teachers were not incompetent. They simply didn't have the good fortune to happen upon my brother doodling cars and trucks on his bookcovers and notebooks. High stakes testing simply cannot take situations like this - which have very real impacts on student achievement and performance - into account, and I think it would be critically stupid to measure teacher quality on such a narrow scale.

        I have no problem with a more comprehensive rubric: on that includes a range of inputs above and beyond a high stakes test. Certainly that takes much more effort and many more "observers" to execute, but teaching is a collaborative endeavor. That 5th grade teacher of my brother wouldn't have been able to do squat with his insight if the first few teachers hadn't laid down the ground work that was required of them - even if it didn't show up in his progress at the time they worked with my brother.

        Single Payer and WPA 2.0...NOW!!!

        by Egalitare on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 06:08:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe -- (3+ / 0-)

      teachers just want to be excluded from "results-based performance grading" foisted upon them by those who aren't affected by their performance, i.e state and Federal bureaucrats.

      "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

      by Cassiodorus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:39:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So no recertification, no repeal of tenure, no (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calfacon

        performance grading, no outside disciplinary-board. Sounds like a dream job.

        Sisterhood is powerful!

        by Shane Hensinger on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:46:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are reading that in -- (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fiddler crabby, miss SPED, Egalitare

          Obviously those affected by the performance of a teacher, i.e. the students and their parents, ought to have some sort of say-so over whether that teacher is to continue.  Meanwhile there are plenty of other people already evaluating the performance of teachers, i.e. principals and their superintendents.  What is being questioned, in this diary and mine, is arbitrary and paternalistic "performance evaluation" which comes from a space which knows nothing of the circumstances of teaching.

          "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

          by Cassiodorus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:23:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Applications are being accepted almost everywhere (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fiddler crabby
          •  Actually, not. (0+ / 0-)

            Most jurisdictions have imposed onerous requirements on who can be a teacher, requiring unnecessary and frivolous credentials.

            The purpose of this is to block competition from entering the market.

            Another big fear is that performance measurement will show whether or not a second Master's degree or extra credit hours over the summer really make a difference to students.

        •  How many realize that there is such (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cassiodorus

          a shortage of teachers who get certified when they go to college and major in some form of education that many are brought into the profession in an alternate certification program?  

          How many realize that many leave after five years or less?  How many will leave when the employment situation is more positive elsewhere?

          Why do you want to come down on teachers when there are not enough of them?  There are many who are within five to ten years of retirement and these are the lifers.  There are not so many lifers in the younger ranks.  They see working hard with little control and then getting blamed for lack of results.  During this time they have been (depending on where they are teaching) flipped off, cursed out, and disprespected in many ways by students and parents with little backup.  

          What will happen when there aren't enough quality teachers, even with alternate certification?  I have seen some great teachers leave with a sad, but dejected spirit.

    •  No. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      etbnc

      Corporate CEOs are also immune to results.

    •  Teachers take any child that is assigned to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      etbnc

      his/her class.  In many cases, if that student were an applicant for a job, he/she would not be hired to begin with.  Teachers don't decide who comes into their classes, and don't fire those that don't perform.  Other industries can sreen out some problems in the hiring process and eliminate low-performing employees by firing them.  

      Show me a business person who is willing to take on any employee assigned with the understanding that there is no firing and that there will be a direct tie between the performance of the two.  It doesn't happen.  

      If each teacher is pitted against each other, there will be less sharing of successful lessons and techniques and fewer teachers will want to work with at-risk students.  We have little power to control many of the circumstances that affect the success of students: parent involvement and home life.  

      Teaching is not like business and people who don't understand that should not be in charge of education policy.  Teaching involves many subjective decisions and working from the heart.  Sometimes you teach your heart out and some students still don't succeed.  Any teacher can tell you stories that will break your heart.  

      Bottom line:  teachers and students are not spreadsheets that can be evaluated soley by numbers. There is a human element that makes a teacher a great one and that is endangered by a numbers only system.    

  •  But in most inner city clases kids aren't (0+ / 0-)

    amounting to squat.  Did anyone watch the Black in America II segment last night that focused on the kids who went to South Africa to experience what it was like to leave the country and volunteer. They then focused on a school Capital Prep in CT that graduated and sent to college every student that passed through the school.   There were some major differences. The biggest is that the kids exposed to this wonderful travel experience didn't really amount to much because there was no collaboration with their educators.   The kids at the other school had excellent teachers and a principal that didn't  play with students that didn't want to do well. Had extended school years and longer days of instruction. It was a very interesting hour.

    •  Did you mean to be so insulting? (10+ / 0-)

      But in most inner city clases kids aren't
      amounting to squat.

      Watch a cable tv program, and suddenly one knows all about most inner city classes.
      I am a special education teacher in a majority minority school.  We would not be considered inner city, but we are definitely urban and many of our students came from the inner city. Frankly, we bust our chops, we teachers do, for all our kids and especially the ones who come to us needing a lot.
      Some of the teachers burn out and move to other school systems that demand less and pay more.
      But to say kids aren't amounting to squat, that is not only awful, but can be a self-fulfilling prophecy - and that is really awful.

      •  I'm not pro public school teacher sorry (0+ / 0-)

        I think most inner city teachers are just there for the money.  When teachers in my old community make almost 90,000 a year but the city still severely underperformed and students are still told they aren't going to amount to much in life. I can't be a defender.  The city I live in now spends over 25,000$ per student.  We have some of the stupidest rudest hopeless kids around. Parents or not teachers have to make school interesting.  The reality is that many of these kids parents wont be there. They are working 3 and 4 jobs just to live.  

        You might not agree with me, but Democrats need to have a more formal discussion on this issue.  

  •  I'm not a teacher (12+ / 0-)

    but I feel tying a teachers pay to student performance is a ridiculous idea. For example, imagine two classes of sixth graders, both taught by credentialed teachers of roughly the same age and experience. Well...One class has 32 students. The other has 42. Seems as if the class with the fewest students may give a better result. Also, a class of 30 in Brentwood, Calif is going to perform much differently than a class of 30 in Compton. Teachers, particularly in California see the odds against them stacking higher and higher as the years go by. Class sizes increase and resources and materials shrink in availability. They are fighting a losing battle. This could all change for the positive if the de-funding trends can be reversed. Then, when class sizes are down to  reasonable number, let the testing begin.

    •  And by what criteria do we judge art and music (6+ / 0-)

      teachers? Is there a way to quantity improvement in these areas?

      If, that is, there are still art and music programs left any more.

    •  Shallow objections. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ManhattanMan

      Any serious merit pay plan would compare teachers of comparable populations, teaching in comparable conditions.

      Class size is standardized in each school district. So you compare teachers within district, not across district lines.

      And maybe you measure improvement, not absolute performance. If teacher X starts off with a class averaging 95th percentile, it's going to be practically impossible for him to improve his class's standing. But teacher Y, who starts with a class averaging 30th percentile, might get her class average up to 45th percentile and be recognized as the best teacher in the district. This sort of reward would motivate good teachers to seek out the worst-performing kids -- exactly what we want.

      The diary points out there are multiple ways to measure performance, and they don't all reward the same teachers. That's a starting point for a serious policy discussion. But even with the great variety of student populations and teaching environments, the sample sizes are huge -- which means valid comparisons should be quite possible.

      Once you decide what to measure. There's the rub.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:27:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have taught in the same school for (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        etbnc

        over 25 years.  Even in the same year in the same school, one class will have a different atmosphere and results will be different.  At semester's end, when the computer reassigns students for the second term and the classes get mixed, the same student who was bright and motivated will change when surrounded by different students and vice versa.  Sometimes a student who was not interested in learning will be in a class of students who will make him/her see things differently.  

        There are just so many intanglibe qualities and issues in teaching that make it difficult to assign excellence in teaching by the numbers.  The same can be said for standardized testing.  Some students who do well on THE test don't have the people skills to be the best employee in the adult world.  A student who does "ok" may have other qualities that make him/her a super success after graduating.  

        •  And yet . . . (0+ / 0-)

          . . . anybody who's ever been a student knows there are better teachers and worse teachers. A good teacher may have a bad year, and a bad teacher may catch a lucky break. Atypical students will get atypical results. But over time, with large sample sizes, the patterns hold.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 05:46:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  all of these are good teachers (6+ / 0-)

    and would rate the merit pay. But i understood the merit pay plans to reward good teachers, not to force them to compete with each other for 'the bonus money'.  The 'bad' teacher is the one who can not get results. The one who de-motivates the students. The four in your example do not fit that mold.

  •  What you really want to do (8+ / 0-)

    is to avoid simple two time tests.

    Standardized testing can be useful.  But standardized tests should be very different from what they are now.  In particular, testing should be frequent, varied, low-stress, and quick.

    I wrote a lot more about this in my diary in defense of standardized tests

    I gotta run, but will be back in a couple hours.

  •  The road to riches! (6+ / 0-)

    Be the third-grade teacher in a school where the second-grade teacher took maternity leave last April. You can start spending the money in September and you don't have to do anything special to get it!

    Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

    by Clem Yeobright on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:49:27 PM PDT

  •  A very interesting topic. When I look back (10+ / 0-)

    on my own experience in public schools in the 1950's and 1960's, I remember days of testing each year, but no particular stress placed on anyone.  We were told to eat a good breakfast, not to open our test booklet until Told To Do So, and sit quietly if we finished early.  What happened to the test results, we had no idea.  They weren't a matter of political import.

    I can hardly imagine a more demoralizing experience for any teacher than having her/his income tied to how the students test.  There are too many variables.  Other professions can pay out bonuses when there's a more-or-less level playing field on the job, and an individual's work ethic and superior performance can be graded fairly.  But that's far from the situation in schools now.

    If we must have merit pay, why not tie it to the principals, the superintendents, and Boards of Education?  Perhaps those people would get motivated to find new ways to educate efficiently, lobby for community funds to support schools, etc.  It seems hardly fair to limit either reward or punishment to the front-line troops.

    It is scarcely possible to conceive of the laws of motion if one looks at them from a tennis ball's point of view. (Brecht)

    by dotalbon on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:55:34 PM PDT

  •  True story (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fiddler crabby, jessical

    During the cold war - probably continuing today - the CIA recognized and rewarded lavishly a case officer for whom an operation 'came home' (began producing significant results). The KGB, on the other hand, would go searching through the files and reward every officer involved anywhere along the way with a successful operation.

    The result? We got case officers working furiously at the start of an 18- or 24-month tour to develop something short-term and usually half-assed, then dogging it the last 6 months when nothing more was to be achieved for their 'permanent jacket', while they got Aldrich Ames.

    A letter and $100 5 years after you retired? It seems to have been an incentive for their guys. Probably the letter more than the rubles.

    Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

    by Clem Yeobright on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:58:21 PM PDT

  •  uh... (12+ / 0-)

    How many of those kids were genuinely damaged in ways that required vast amounts of the teacher's time?

    How well did those kids treat each other, over the year? What did they learn about being human beings?

    How many of those kids learned to study hard at something they loved?  Or even learn to find what they loved?

    How well did the teacher communicate the values of study and attentiveness to the children's parents?

    Do any of the differences in scores you cite, for the tests involve, reach statistical significance?

    Teachers should be evaluated for the most part by observation and in context assesment of skills, by other people who are aware of what is required to manage a classroom.  Yes, that means teachers who are surrounded by clueless managerial types will get short shrift, and it is difficult to find appropriate metrics to apply broadly.  But rewarding teachers on the basis of this sort of comparison absolutely guantees students will receive less attention as people, that the effort will go to bringing up the average, especially in an environment where teachers are being paid squat regardless.  This kind of analysis implies that education is a test score, and teaching is raising that score.  What a grotesque view of both education and human beings...

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 03:59:13 PM PDT

  •  Winners and losers. (11+ / 0-)

    I taught at an inner city mission school for two years.  I know that our test scores didn't set the world on fire, but I also know that when I sent my kids on to their next school, they were prepared to continue improving.  I got them in 5th & 6th grade.  They had been essentially ignored for several years.  It took the whole first year to get them to understand that, yes, I did expect them to do the assignments, and do them correctly.  Good enough wasn't good enough.  

    I could not make up for their abysmal lack of vocabulary skills, so my co-teacher and I taught them some Latin and Greek to help them figure words out on their own.  That kind of thing won't show up right away, but one of these kids called me two years later and said she was still light-years ahead of her peers in vocabulary.  Mission accomplished.

    I probably would have been considered a loser but I know that my kids were winners.  That's what counts!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:06:11 PM PDT

  •  This discussion has been very confused (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, canteenkenny

    The confusion has been between the general question of whether teacher compensation ought to be tied to performance, and the specific question of how to measure that performance.  Opponents of merit pay too often deny the general of even abstract proposition that compensation should be tied to performance, when in most cases they're merely pointing out the extreme difficulty and maybe impossibility of coming up with a fair rubric.  As this diary has noted, looking at students may sound compelling since they're the object of teachers' attention, but student performance is unsalvageable as the measurement of teacher competence.  That's not an ideological statement--it's elementary social science statistics.

    It is, however possible that there could be other ways to reward (and yes, at least in relative terms, punish) teachers for differential performance: to deny that there is any variability in teacher performance, or that (uniquely among professionals) it shouldn't be recognized in compensation practices, is just an obnoxious position.  Teaching is only unique insofar as every job is unique, and fetishizing it in a way that so obviously benefits the lower tier of teachers is something that isn't fooling anyone.

    Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

    by Rich in PA on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:08:07 PM PDT

    •  I cannot find any evidence in this thread that (5+ / 0-)

      denies that there is variability in teacher performance. Nor do I see evidence of fetishizing.

      •  I wasn't referring to this diary/thread (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HeyMikey

        I mean the national discussion generally.  The NEA doesn't admit the possibility of differential teacher performance, so when they (justifiably) oppose this or that scheme for basing evaluations on student performance, their good faith can be effective impugned.  That's why they are so marginalized in the discussion: they still have power because these changes can only come in via collective bargaining, but intellectually they've been marginalized because their objections are too fundamentalist to be taken seriously.

        Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

        by Rich in PA on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:18:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would argue... (5+ / 0-)

          ...that they've been marginalized for the reasons we saw on this thread: many folks have become convinced, like the commenter above that "inner city teachers are in it for the money" (gag) or like the diarist they are stroking their chin and looking at quantitative meaasures and going "These are the questions that have to be answered going forward" without a moment's real consideration of whether the numbers they are using reflect much of anything relating to the desired outcome.

          While I grew up surrounded by educators, I work in the software industry, and I'm keenly aware of how silver bullet fads move through both arenas.  Anytime you have hard to quantify outcomes, or a percentage of unavoidable disasters, there is a strong temptation to impose some numeric, nicely sifted metrics and pretend you understand the problems.  At that point, everything else you say can be about identifying with power and "the questions that have to be answered going forward".  

          The thing is, a couple of the more recent 'silver bullets' in the software industry have actually worked: while I don't buy into agile programming as a religionist, code review and intensive technical evaluations actually work, just as collaboration and deeper social context work in medicine and other fields.  But teachers are really isolated, and providing that context would cost a lot of money.  Turning them into vocational educators keyed to multiple choice tests is more rewarding for administrators, I think, and more lucrative and politically expedient.

          ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

          by jessical on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:55:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Any merit pay system which based (6+ / 0-)

    raises on differences as small as those in the case of these four teachers would be stupid.  They should all get equal merit pay.  There is no way the difference in their performances is statisitically significant.

    So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

    by illinifan17 on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:13:59 PM PDT

    •  the problem (4+ / 0-)

      I think is that there will be pressure on the authorities to give differential merit pay.  And there is trust that would have to be earned.  I had the experience of a boss who hated me, but could not get rid of me.  My evaluations written by him were terrible, and he kept me on a year-to-year contract for two years longer than I should have been.  My understanding is his inability to supervise people appropriately (i.e. what he did to me and others) was one of the reasons he was fired.  I don't necessarily trust merit pay because of my experiences.

  •  Tying achievement to pay is too complex (5+ / 0-)

    As you brilliantly describe using real data, there are too many objective variables that can be used to quantify "success", not to mention a myriad of additional subjective measures, which were highlighted in a comment (personality/psychological development, treatment of other students/manners, etc.)

    Really, the only objective measure that I would even consider for merit-based pay is the average rate of achievement.  But even that measure has extensive problems in complexity. This is a prime example of the Lake Wobegon Effect.  Not everyone can be above average, and in classes as small as 20 students, a few truly brilliant students can skew a teacher's average results.

    Higher pay would draw more professionals into the teaching career field, but as we all learned in college, just because someone has a Ph.D. doesn't mean they are a good teacher.

    "Give me a lever long enough... and I shall move the world." - Archimedes

    by mconvente on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:22:22 PM PDT

  •  I taught resource math last year. (5+ / 0-)

    I taught a scripted curriculum.  My students had to take a modified version of the state standardized test. I had followed that curriculum as directed, and when my students took a simulated state test, I had one pass, out of about 45 students who took it.
    I stopped teaching that curriculum and spent five weeks preparing for the standardized test, teaching to it. (After all, I am being evaluated as a teacher on student performance.)
    The estimate is, that somewhere between a third and half of the students passed the real state test.
    Now, am I a failure as a teacher because I couldn't even get half the kids to pass?  When I taught what I was told to, one student passed the simulation.
    I never worked so hard in my life as I did last year. On paper, I am a failure.

    •  You don't give us enough facts. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calfacon

      Presumably there were other teachers in your school district, teaching the same resource math curriculum to students in the same grade. For comparison purposes, eliminate all those other teachers except the ones teaching resource math to students of similar demographics.

      Among teachers in your district teaching the same curriculum, same grade, similar demographics -- how did your pass rate stack up?

      My brother is a 6th grade social studies teacher here in Georgia. Last year 46% of his kids passed the statewide test. Rotten, right? Until you know that the statewide pass rate was 23% -- so awful that the state threw out the test results statewide. Now my brother is a genius hero. The state called him this summer to help develop next year's test.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 05:36:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Are you kidding or an engineer? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fiddler crabby

        Presumably there were other teachers in your school district, teaching the same resource math curriculum to students in the same grade. For comparison purposes, eliminate all those other teachers except the ones teaching resource math to students of similar demographics.

        My school district's special ed budget is millions of dollars in the hole.  The budget can't pay extra teachers, much less number crunchers.  All they want to know is, how many students, how many passed?
        I know anecdotally that my class size is double, triple that of other schools in my district. I know the standardized test is grade level modified.  My students, 9th and 10th graders, ranged from first through eighth grade achievement level. (Most were performing in primary grade levels.)
        Beyond that, it's all on me - and if they are looking at comparison data, they don't tell me.  My classes were capped at 15 (down from 30,) but the district could go three over - and did, because people wanted kids in my classes.
        Any teacher who is teaching primary level kids who are evaluated at secondary levels - and is evaluated on that performance - well, there is no such thing as a level playing field.  Mho.

        •  One thing that many people (0+ / 0-)

          don't realize because the No Child Left Behind act implies that students must pass standardized test before being promoted.  That is not always true.  In my district, students are not kept in middle school more than one extra year and then are sent to high school so that the "age" factor will not be detrimental.  Now that child has been passed on without the skills and understanding that he/she should have and has learned that he can advance without achieving.  It is not until graduation that the test keeps someone from going on.  At that point, they do not graduate and are in shock that they don't, since they have been passed along all or most of the other years so that the district looks good.

          •  Policy to deny reality. (0+ / 0-)

            The reality that much education policy tries to deny is the bell curve. (No, I do not imply anything racial by using that term, even though a book titled The Bell Curve did.) About 1% of people have IQs of 55 or below. About 2% of people have IQs of 70 or below. These folks will never, ever be able to handle high-school or even advanced middle-school material. Some of them will never be able to master elementary-school material. We need a better educational policy than just slamming these kids into the intellectual wall for year after year, then cutting them loose. And we certainly should not be labeling their schools as failing just because these kids perform below grade level for their age.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 05:55:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Merit pay won't work there. But that's atypical. (0+ / 0-)

          I know anecdotally that my class size is double, triple that of other schools in my district.

          That's grossly unfair to you and your students, and generally nuts. The fact it precludes comparisons of teacher effectiveness is just one reason among many.

          My students, 9th and 10th graders, ranged from first through eighth grade achievement level.

          So you're supposed to teach 8 different grades of math? Prepare 8 different lesson plans every night? Insanity.

          My classes were capped at 15 (down from 30,) but the district could go three over - and did, because people wanted kids in my classes.

          You must be doing something right. Congratulations. And thank you!

          But -- sheesh. When resources are scarce, that's when it's most important to deploy them efficiently. And you can't tell what's efficient use of resources without good data. And you can't get good data without standardizing conditions to allow valid comparisons. Chaos breeds waste. Wow.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 06:02:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I diaried this topic recently -- (4+ / 0-)

    A not-so-short commentary on a short news article

    Quality teaching is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder.  If the Federal government wants to step in and evaluate everyone (instead of leaving that job up to the students and their parents), well, that's paternalism for you.

    "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Cassiodorus on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:38:01 PM PDT

  •  validity of NWEA test? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, jessical, miss SPED

    I know the test you are using, and my impression is that it is weak in content and strong on producing complex statistics. I no longer have my file on the NWEA so I don't want to be overly critical, but I wonder if you could say more on the valdity of their MAP test.

    •  You're correct (0+ / 0-)

      The MAP is multiple choice, and the correlation between it and the state standards that we're supposed to use can be somewhat tenuous, particularly in mathematics.

      I'm the MAP coordinator for my building, so I get to watch kids K through 6 take the test.  It gives information, and lots of it.  Valuable info?  That's an open question.

  •  "Value-added" (4+ / 0-)

    I have been told that inner city school teachers will get "spotted" points based on class size, students who qualify for special ed. services during the year, number of students who enter or leave during the year, number of non-English speaking students, and so on.  I have been told my urban district is in the upper middle of the pack when these factors are balanced in.  However, our state test scores on the whole are very low although improving somewhat.  
    At any rate, it makes me sick to think that Pres. Obama thinks this is a great idea - it is not.  Teachers don't work for many years in urban districts unless they love the kids - a lot.  Passing out money to improve scores makes the whole testing mania ever more maniacal.  Who gets burned?  Only the students who are already so far behind that society hardly cares at all.  Based on our spending, we would just as soon imprison them as to focus money, time, and effort in their early years.  
    What a dreadful, shameful way to run an educational system.  

    Think what you are doing today. -Fred Rogers

    by JanL on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:40:34 PM PDT

  •  The unspoken truth is that students have changed (3+ / 0-)
    The fast paced editing of modern media has radically reduced attention span and the ability to focus.  Nothing in our popular culture prepares children to work hard for a deferred future payoff.  American culture needs to experience some accountability.

    moderation in everything ... including moderation

    by C Barr on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 04:44:28 PM PDT

  •  Nice diary (5+ / 0-)

    Also Teacher D began the year with students the furthest behind.

    Who gets the credit for a student's improved performance in an English class?  The English teacher?  Or the basketball coach who told a player he needed to get his grades up to remain eligible? How about the history class? The history teacher? Or the drama teacher who told the lead in "Glass Menagerie" that he needed to study labor history and the Depression to understand what was going on in the lives of Tom and Amanda?  How about the janitor who's known to encourage kids having a bad time?  It's easy to identify who adds value to students' lives, but it's very hard to nail down who's contributing how much of the value.

    I tend to think that schools or programs that bring students the farthest from where they started deserve to be recognized. And those that just take credit for the smart and affluent kids they enroll don't deserve a lot of credit.  I could see the entire school being rewarded (or penalized) for strong or weak performance -- but I'd want it done on schoolwide basis. The idea that we can (or should) apply the profit motive to individual teachers is just another twisted idea from the twisted people who believe that markets solve all problems.

  •  You're using the wrong metric. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fiddler crabby, miss SPED

    Using students' scores to judge teacher performance is a fool's game. Since the assessment of teacher performance is critically important to teachers- seeing as how their pay and possibly their further employment depend upon it- they will very logically move heaven and earth to be ranked favorably. This leads to all sorts of mischief. Teachers do everthing they can to get smarter students in their classroom, and to push less capable students into someone else's. They very aggressively 'teach to the test'. Or, they just cheat! There are numerous documented cases of teachers simply falsifying test results, or granting their students a peek at the questions in advance.

    Lest you think I have something against teachers, I don't. I have many teachers and two principals in my family. You folks have a difficult task, and are expected to perform miracles on a shoestring. And teachers have not cornered the market on obfuscating measurements of quality. My own medical field is being dragged kicking and screaming into the age of accountability and on-line performance scores available to the public.

    However. The evasion of meaningful evaluation of teacher performance is a constant in the education world. The nebulous, 'grasping a cloud' nature of most education school pedagogy and performance 'measures' almost defy parody. Teachers colleges notoriously fill their entering class from the lowest academic quartile of college-bound high school seniors; and it shows.

    For years I've believed that the best measure of teacher quality is simply to test teachers for their own comprehension of the material they're supposed to be teaching. I have seen nothing to persuade me that this is invalid. Yes, the "best" teachers aren't always the most academically gifted, some things can't be measured, yadda yadda yadda. But the simple truth is that in every school, both students and faculty are very aware of who the best teachers are. And this almost always correlates closely with their academic talent and knowledge base. Not their ability to regurgitate Ed-school pedagogy, but their comprehension of the physics, math or English they're supposed to be teaching.

    My conviction on this is derived from a lot of personal experience with teachers and education. Education schools place absurd emphasis on education theory and pegagogy, and very little on actual educational content. The best science teachers I have encountered all had science degrees rather than education degrees, and several were 'grandfathered in' from non-education careers. Massachusetts tested their teachers for academic knowledge about a decade ago, and the results were shockingly bad; most of the high school teachers failed to master 8th grade level material.

    So, you're right to note that assessing teacher quality based on their students' progress is difficult if not hopeless...though probably not for the reasons you suggest. But there are much better yardsticks available.

    •  what you said. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ralphdog

      A Dallas middle school just had to retake the state math test because of adult improprieties.  The passing rate dropped by half for their eighth graders, the second time around.
      Then their seventh grade writing scores were questioned by the State as well. (Similar circumstance, but because seventh grade writing isn't required for matriculation, the State didn't require retesting.)

      When childrens' scores matter for adult pay, adults don't always play by the rules.

    •  Test the kids not the teachers. (0+ / 0-)

      At harvest time, we don't weigh the farmer!  We weigh the crop!

      I have been a teacher, and I know from personal experience that a good attitude and knowledge of teaching techniques count far more than subject proficiency.

      You have to know more than your students...but not much more.

      •  I totally disagree. (0+ / 0-)

        I have also been a teacher. I still teach medical students and residents with some regularity. Okay, it's not the same as teaching a class of bored, caffeinated 10th graders, but still.

        I could not possibly disagree with you more about 'knowledge of teaching techniques' counting far more than subject proficiency. Young teachers graduate from Ed school with their heads packed full of the latest pedagogy and teaching techniques, almost all of it wrong. In five years the winds of educational fashion will do a 180° and today's 'approved' teaching techniques will be ostentatiously rejected in favor of the next new thing. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The swings from "whole language learning" to "grammar and syntax" and back again would be comical if it weren't so damaging to the unfortunate students.

        If you are two pages ahead of the students in understanding the course work, they know. Trust me on this. The students with anything on the ball recognize immediately when the teacher is faking knowledge he doesn't have, and they lose all respect.

        •  Don't lie to them they'll respect you. (0+ / 0-)

          You don't have to feign knowledge, just help the stragglers and let the strong ones run ahead.

          I agree about Education School classes.  The best teaching techniques don't necessarily come from a book.  Experience means a lot.

          My experience comes from teaching a physical skill.  I'm better at this skill than most people, but I wasn't the best teacher. The best teachers were the ones with better empathy and teaching tricks than me.

          There are Right Ways to Teach Stuff.  Maybe you don't learn them in Masters of Educational Science classes, but they do exist.

  •  Merit or Performance based pay is ... (3+ / 0-)

    Often seen as a substitute for getting rid of "weaker" teachers or as a way to keep costs down.  I have been involved in systems where the merit raises were to come from a capped pool of money which led to the 2nd grade teacher competing against the high school Social Studies teacher vs. the middle school math teacher. In addition, other plans have been seen as a way of forcing teachers to go elsewhere and many of these decisions are influenced by things other than teacher performance.
    So I understand the wailing about teachers being the "only" profession to do A B or C but from a teachers perspective we already do a difficult job for lower than "professional" wages and now people want to restrict things even further.

    •  This is why we use Standardized Tests! (0+ / 0-)

      Some posters here have called for "peer evaluations" and "observations".  These touchy-feely methods are just invitations to begin nasty political in-fighting.

      Give an objective test so we keep Teacher's Lounge Politics to a minimum.

  •  Teachers are starting sound like... (0+ / 0-)

    ...the Republicans on Health Care.  Republicans say we can't reform Health Care because "It's too bureaucratic!", "What about small businesses?", "Who's going to do the rationing?".

    They really just want delay, followed by inaction.

    This is similar.  Whenever anyone proposes holding the education system accountable for results, they throw up black cloud of squid ink to obfuscate the issue. "Tests don't measure everything!", "My kids started out dumber!", "The kids in the next district have rich parents!".

    None or these nit-pickings, or even all of them put together, constitute a legitimate argument against reform.  Their purpose is to delay accountability for One More year, just One More union contract negotiation, budget cycle, or election.

    But the kids in poor schools suffer every day.

    •  Are you a teacher? Administrator? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fiddler crabby

      Do you work in a 'poor' school?

      'Tests don't measure everything.' True.  Since I teach special education, 'my kids started out dumber' is insulting, though likely true. 'The kids in the next district have rich parents' - well I teach in a 'wealthy' district which gives millions to 'poor' districts -  so I have a couple of rich parents among my student caseload.

      For you to say Teachers sound like Republicans on health care is your opinion and you  are entitled to it.  If you are a teacher, I'd like to hear your side.  If you're not a teacher, walk a  mile in our shoes, please, before you open your mouth to criticize.

      •  All these little... (0+ / 0-)

        ...objections are true. Some kids start out behind. Socioeconomics makes a big difference and is beyond the teacher's control.  Tests don't measure everything.

        But these are just speed bumps. We need education reform and accountability. We can adjust for the speed bumps, and we must not allow them to slow progress.

        Am I a teacher? Well!

        The Bankers said, "Trust us, because finance is too complicated for non-bankers to understand".

        The Warmongers said, "Trust us, because if you aren't a general or a CIA agent, you're not qualified to criticize us".

        Do you really expect me to fall for the old "You-can't-criticize-us-because-you-aren't-one-of-us" line?

        I am not a teacher...which means I don't have a vested interest in the status quo. I am a parent, which means I have a strong interest in Reform.

        We need to design good tests that measure academic knowledge.  Then we need to reward schools that can get their kids' scores up.  I don't see what the problem is, why there should be delay?  I don't see why we shouldn't start tomorrow.

        •  Since you aren't a teacher (0+ / 0-)

          you see them as 'little objections'. For me they are the rationale for 10 and 12 hour workdays, six days a week.

          Are your children in poor schools?   If they aren't, then this is just an intellectual exercise.  There are too many straw men and red herrings in your arguments for me to address.

          If the solutions were so simple they would have been done by now.

          •  Yet another attempt... (0+ / 0-)

            ...to dodge the criticism by disqualifying the criticizer.  "Are my children in poor schools?"

            For the record, yeah...our local public schools are among the worst in the nation.  But even if it wasn't so, I still have standing to question the educational system. I am a citizen, a taxpayer, and American.  That makes it my business.

            I see no straw men.  I do see red herrings, though.  They are the dozens of trivial objections to any performance-based reform.

      •  Good point. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        miss SPED, etbnc

        How many here have at least volunteered in a school and worked with students from all kinds of backgrounds?  If you haven't, go volunteer and then come back and tell us what it was like.

        A neighbor of mine was also of the opinion that teachers weren't doing what they should and she could do better.  She went through an alternative certification and got a job in Dallas.  She lasted three weeks, quit, and has a completely different outlook now about what is involved.

        •  This is not a good point. (0+ / 0-)

          That's like saying:

          "Your views on the Iraq War don't matter unless you're a veteran."

          "Your views on economics and taxes don't matter because you're not a corporate executive."

          "Your views on the Healthcare Plan don't count because you don't work in a hospital or for an HMO."

          The goal is to avoid a facts-based discussion by de-legitimizing the questioner. Nobody is falling for it any more. Try something different.

          We need to design good tests that measure academic knowledge.  Then we need to reward schools that can get their kids' scores up.  I don't see what the problem is, why there should be delay?  I don't see why we shouldn't start tomorrow.

  •  You forgot "Teacher F" (0+ / 0-)

    Teacher F: 160.00 in the fall, 165.00 in the spring, so an average gain of 10.00 points.

    There will be some who fall short on every measure.  Surely, at the very least, we can target these teachers for extra training or help?

    Seriously, it is not hard to pick a set of test scores we want to shoot for and reward teachers who come closest to it.

    •  Gain is 5.00 points, error. (0+ / 0-)
    •  And that's the problem.... (0+ / 0-)

      There will be some who fall short on every measure.

      See, that's the mindset that scares me as a teacher.  There are indeed failing teachers and failing schools--just as there are in any industry--but when you introduce a concept like merit pay into the mix I worry that some administrators will force teachers into winner/loser dichotomies just for the sake of making it look like the merit system is "working".

      •  So you would let... (0+ / 0-)

        ...Teacher F continue to teach your kids?

        I wouldn't let Banker F manage my money.  I wouldn't let Doctor F operate on me.  I wouldn't let Lawyer F defend me in court!

        Why must my daughter put up with Teacher F?  The Bush Twins didn't get Teacher F...they got the very best.  Why should my child get less?

        •  But Your Teacher F.... (0+ / 0-)

          ....could very easily be someone else's teacher A.

          Different kids respond to different teachers in different ways, and that's where the objective v. subjective differences come into play.  Objectively, in the example I gave, Teacher D was the worst.  Subjectively, knowing the team, many parents would tell you that Teacher A is the worst of the bunch.

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