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It would be a dream scenario for any high school basketball coach- arriving at practice every day with an athletic front line, averaging six feet, nine inches tall (and able to handle the ball) and a backcourt consisting of a lightning-quick point guard who can penetrate and dish off or shoot, and a nothing-but-net three-point shooter.
And even better, all five players are battle-tested seniors with three years of varsity experience.
A coach could guide a team like that to the state championship.
After that, there might be a letdown. The next year’s squad is raw, inexperienced, and does not have anyone over six feet, four inches, and no natural point guard.
Naturally, no one with any intelligence would expect the coach to be able to top the previous year’s record.
That would be impossible...yet the same thing is expected of public school teachers in the United States every year.

When pontificating politicians and pundits rail against the so-called "failing" American public school system, their answers to repair it always are led by an over-reliance on the results of standardized tests. In Missouri, where I teach eighth grade English, and in many other states, our elected officials are indulging in the tried-and-true national pastime of election year grandstanding at the expense of the teachers. Efforts are being made in our state to offer merit pay, based on standardized test scores, to teachers, on the condition that they give up tenure. The legislature approved a bill last year allowing this to be done in St. Louis schools.

And while I firmly believe teachers should be held accountable for the education received by those in their charge, standardized test scores are not the way to do it.

Too many variables go into students’ success on standardized tests.

STUDENTS’ HOME LIVES- While teachers work miracles every day in our public schools, trying to convince students who come from broken homes (or who have no homes), are physically, emotionally, or sexually abused, or come from homes where the parents are abusing drugs or alcohol that algebraic equations, parts of speech, and frog dissection are necessary for them to get ahead in life is virtually impossible.

- A student’s learning can easily be derailed by running into a subpar teacher, or perhaps one who has to be gone for an extended amount of time due to sickness. The merit pay systems being considered never take into account that the educational process builds from year to year. If there is a detour along the way, it can have a negative effect on a student. Should it also be responsible for a teacher losing a job or a pay increase?

VERTICAL SCORING- Returning to the analogy that opened this post, we are not testing how much students learn from year to year, which would seem to be the only measurement that makes sense; we are comparing this year’s students with an entirely different group of students who took the class the previous year. Just as you have basketball players with different characteristics and capabilities each year, the same holds true for students. It not only is an unfair comparison, but it is a comparison that is absolutely meaningless. Yet this is the comparison politicians plan to use to hold teachers’ livelihoods hostage.

While teachers (and the American public) would be ill served by making these comparisons the basis on which our schools are staffed and our teachers rewarded (or shown the door), there undeniably has to be accountability in education.
So how can it be done in a way that works for the teachers, the taxpayers, and above all, the students?

USE LONGITUDINAL SCORING- Instead of comparing apples and oranges, determine how much the same students have learned from one year to the next. While there would still be flaws in this system, it would still offer a realistic picture of whether a student is moving forward or digressing in his or her education.

JUDGE TEACHERS ON THREE-YEARS OF RESULTS- If test scores fall by large amounts, take action, but there needs to be a built-in protection that keeps teachers from being penalized for years that they don’t have those all-star lineups of students available.

TEST STUDENTS AT BEGINNING AND END OF YEAR- If we test the students on what they are expected to know at the beginning of the school year, and then test again at the end to see what they have learned, that would be a far more accurate method of determining what learning has taken place.

- Administrator evaluations and peer evaluations could be used.

Sadly, there is no perfect way of evaluating teachers. That being said, the biggest mistake we can make is to base everything on test scores. If we take that step- and we are leaning dangerously in that direction- our schools will be all test preparation all the time, and the joy of learning, a joy that has produced our best and brightest, will be only a dim memory.

Originally posted to rturner229 on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:21 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  I think merit pay should be used to entice the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      best teachers to work in the most challenging schools.

      I lived in New York City for 35 years and while I never taught there, I had many friends who were teachers. Many of them abandoned the Public School system, after only a few years, in absolute frustration.

      In New York tenured teachers got to pick their schools. They understandably chose the schools in better neighborhoods, where students tend to get more support from parents. Many of these schools have PTA's that raise enough money to provide additional supplies and other resources.

      New teachers are placed in the most troubled schools, along with the least experienced Principals. This creates a situation in which many inexperienced teachers are working without support. There is often no structure in these schools to support a culture of learning.

      I think it would be very valuable to focus on getting the most experienced teachers and administrators into schools most in need of help. Using merit pay to induce these experienced teachers to switch would be an excellent model.

      God has no religion. - Gandhi

      by OIL GUY on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 08:18:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  People are afraid to look beyond test scores (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cai, CMYK

    for instance, SAT scores above an "average" level are actually not good indicators of college grades. At all. When UC noticed this and suggested the SAT be tossed, they got blowback you wouldn't believe.

    People just have a hard time understanding that test scores - particularly the more generalized, non-subject matter testing that is so oddly popular here - don't indicate anything about ambition, punctuality, drive, desire to learn, ability to overcome obstacles, ability to finish what you start, etc.

    As for the merit pay for teachers, I'd rather spend that money up front recruiting  better candidates for teaching and making it easier to change professions and become a teacher (in some states, if you do that, your social security gets tanked).   Because no matter what system is in place, there will always be bad teachers, just as there are always bad office workers, etc. You get the most bang for your buck just trying to improve the talent pool up front.

    •  How can we tell... (4+ / 0-)

      ...which recruits are "better candidates for teaching" if we have no way to measure if their students actually learn or not?

        •  Not true (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fiddler crabby, cai, CMYK

          the best teachers I had consistently were the brightest, the most adaptable, the best at presentation, the most organized. The worst I had were people who generally weren't that smart and were incredibly inflexible or intolerent. These are all things that can be at least somewhat assessed as part of a preperation program and student teaching.

          I simply advocate that we jack up the academic standards of ed programs abecause at least that is one variable we can control, and it is a problem at the moment at many universities.

          Those who advocate holding existing teachers accountable for "whether their students learn" just won't admit we have no reliable way to measure whether the student isn't learning because the teacher is bad. Period. It's all fantasy that this can be determined, and a powerful fantasty that many here at dkos seem to have fallen for. So in lieu of punishing people who have done nothing wrong, and rewarding people who have done nothing good, let's spend our money improving the talent pool. Otherwise, all you're going to do is drive good teachers out of the system because they will be the ones who recognize that they are held to an unfair standard. I have several friends that fall into this category.

          •  It really depends (0+ / 0-)

            I know that's a weak response, but it does.

            It matters what areas you increase expectations.  If you increase expectations in a way that simply requires more academic work, it won't do anything.  

            If you increase the number of hours required in the classroom at different grade levels, in my opinion, that would make a difference.  

            If districts had money for real mentor teachers, or if they had money to allow all teachers to visit other schools in the district and surrounding areas, those things would make immediate impact.  

            Teaching is difficult because of the children, and the adults, but it's also difficult because it is not very collegial.  It's very difficult to be able to participate with other teachers and observe them doing their work without leaving your own class.

            People don't get up in the morning and ask, Do I want single-payer or managed competition? Wellstone

            by otto on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:32:51 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  This is what I mean: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            "...the best teachers I had consistently were the brightest, the most adaptable, the best at presentation, the most organized."

            How can you look at a teacher and tell if they have all those good characteristics? Am I supposed to trust the word of their evaluator? What if their evaluator was unfair or biased?

            How can ypu compare the teacher who got "evaluated" by their peers in California to one who got evaluated by a senior teacher in NYC?

            You can't.

            To rephrase John Edwards: If you want more bacon, don't weigh the farmers, weigh the hogs!

            •  So you think no academic standards mean anything (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              so you'd rather not have any?

              As for "measuring the hog," well...

              that reminds me of that survey on sex ed that looked at 12 year olds and decided whether abstinence only ed was effective based on their behavior at that age. What actually matters is whether they get through their teenage years without an STD or unwanted pregnancy. Should the sex ed teacher be punished because the kids failed a particular arbitrary measure (age of first experience) or by whether they graduate healthy and without a baby hanging off their arm?

              •  Academic standards... (0+ / 0-)

                ...may mean something.  

                But we should not assume that they do unless it can be proven.  The way to prove it is to see which academic credentials increase student performance.

                It must always come back to, "Did the kids learn more?"

                If the kids are learning, I don't care if the teacher has 9 Ph.Ds or if the teacher failed the GED.

  •  Makes a lot of sense. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, CMYK

    Good diary

    tipped and rec'd

    In the choice between changing ones mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.

    by jsfox on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:28:56 AM PST

  •  I'm glad to see you suggested alternatives (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, nextstep, fl1972

    Oddly (ha!), teachers never get to the alternatives: they point out the problems of using test scores, declare the whole merit pay idea hopeless, and fall back on the way things are now as the only possible way.  Imagine if we used that kind of thinking to address other issues in our personal or collective lives.

    Enrich your life with adverbs!

    by Rich in PA on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:36:28 AM PST

  •  Amen! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluegrass50, cai, CMYK, Azazello

    Instead of the usual anti-testing, anti-accountability diatribes, this Diary offers some solutions to make testing actually work.

    I would add more:

    Student Demographics: Teachers that teach kids from single-parent homes, kids who don't speak English, and kids from poor families should get more credit. We have many studies detailing the effects of these factors, so we can easily run the numbers on how much of a "bonus" to give.

    Class Size: The teacher with fewer kids should be expected to teach them more. Once again, we have reams of data quantifying the positive effect of small class size.

    Get Good Tests: Sweet Jesus, let's not use crappy tests!  All this does is give opponents of accountability solid, legitimate ammunition. We need to makes sure that the tests we use measure actual knowledge. It is possible to design tests that do this.

    We can do this. We must do this.  We will not be able to maintain popular support for publicly-funded education unless people can see that results are being delivered.

    •  Test quality (0+ / 0-)

      I am in total agreement with you on the quality of the tests. It is no wonder some students do poorly when their reading assessments are made based on some of the most boring selections ever chosen. I try to find challenging reading seletions in my classes, and selections that will interest the students. Such care is not taken with the selections that are included on standardized tests.
       And the questions are not much better.

  •  home lives (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CMYK, Azazello

    I can testify to that. One thing that having a difficult childhood teaches you is that there is nothing to respect about an institution of a society that doesn't give a damn. How can a teenager, who is basically hardwired to be rebellious in the first place, have respect for teachers? The answer, I think, is that they can if they think that teachers have some sort of integrity beyond just being a teacher.

  •  there are both good and bad (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    teachers.  Anyone that has attended school would have to admit to that. The same is true of any job. You have people that are exceptional, people that are average, and people that shouldn't do the job at all.

     There is unfairness is all "merit raises" in all jobs. But you can't simply treat all employees as equals. You must be able to reward the folks that are exceptionally good. This is difficult, if not impossible, in a union environment.  I know because I've been there.

     Test scores of students may not be the perfect way way to reward good teachers - but nothing else is better.  After all, their job is to teach students. If the students aren't learning, then the teacher isn't exceptional.

  •  Agreed. My idea for merit pay: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, cai

    In most profressions, merit pay is for those who lead and supervise.

    Teaching does not do this.

    Merit pay should be given to the accomplished teachers who would be promoted to be mentor teachers.  Not administrators who become divorced from the classroom.

    Take the best teachers.  Give them a half class load, and make them mentors for other teachers to help improve other teachers.  Pay them more for being promoted to mentor.

    It is what most professions do.    

  •  "Merit" pay, a.k.a. no good deed goes unpunished (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    decembersue, MKinTN, cai, CMYK

    Does anyone ever suggest paying doctors according to their patients' blood iron and cholesterol levels, the sizes of their tumors, the amount of exercise they get? Does anyone ever suggest paying pharmacists according to how sick their customers are, or how consistently they stay on their meds?

    Are banks paid according to how well their depositors manage their money? Are mortgage lenders paid according to how many payments borrowers make on time?

    Are lawyers paid according to how honest their clients are?

    Are locksmiths paid according to the safety of their customers' neighborhoods? Cosmetologists according to how beautiful or ugly their customers are?

    Teachers are the only licensed profession routinely blamed for the results of the social inequities that make their jobs more difficult, and threatened with salary penalties if they don't shape up. Not even lawyers get such a bad rap.

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:11:01 AM PST

    •  here, here (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
    •  We hear this rant a lot... (0+ / 0-)

      ...and the solution is easy.

      We simply weight the results based on where the students start versus where they finish.

      The Diary addressed this. The Diarist offered solutions such as longitudinal scoring, long-term scoring, and September-to-June measurements.

      No more red herrings!

    •  Well said. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Although, there are merit bonuses for doctors in the U.K. if they're patients lose weight, lower their cholesterol, or quit smoking.  But that's analogous to the diarist's idea of longitudinal studies... afaik, they don't punish doctors for where their patients start.

    •  The goal of forcing teachers to be held (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      accountable for factors they do not control -- the influence of a vapid popular culture that values marketing and consumption above all, disengaged or ill-informed parents, coarsening attitudes about civility, school violence, varying conditions in students' homes, etc. -- is to destabilize and delegitimize the teachers' union, period. To accomplish that goal, anything and everything will be thrown at it, while the business industrial complex tries to force the privatization meme by every means available.

      We have a culture that devalues academic achievement and intelligence. Hence, we have students who devalue academics and intelligence. And those who stand to profit from that are pretending it's because of teachers because it suits their economic agenda to do so. Ending up with better educated, more engaged citizens is hardly the goal of those who yell about merit pay.

      Paying teachers a lot more money is a good idea. But expecting them to turn out kids who are being groomed outside of school to be low achievers isn't realistic. And testing won't fix that.

      Tricoteuses Sans Frontières (Knitters Without Borders) has raised $1million for MSF since 2004.

      by CMYK on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 12:53:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You get what you measure (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I have to disagree with you about merit pay and student test scores. I teach math at a Title I elementary school, where my students home life is less than stable, but that does not keep them from achieving at high levels.  I assess where my students are at the beginning of the year. At least 30 to 40 percent did not score proficient on the previous years state assessment. The next six to eight weeks are spent on the key concepts/skills they are missing and building the foundation for this years skills.  I continually assess whether my students are "getting it" throughout the year and by January 75% to 85% percent of my students are doing on grade level or above math. By state test time +90% of my students score proficient or advanced on the test.  

    So tell me again why I should be paid the same as the teacher whose students are still not proficient at the grade level skills?

    When you win, they don't call you a "celebrity. They call you Mr. President!

    by Teach53 on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:22:34 AM PST

    •  Sure, keep doing this (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      otto, ManhattanMan, CMYK
      But the diarist's points still hold. Show that you can do this over a three year period, for example. And make sure that you're not positioning yourself to have only the "best" students (low SES or otherwise) in your school. I have seen in many schools teachers that avoid at all costs difficult-to-teach students. You know as well as I do that some students, of all cultures and income levels, are easier to teach than others. And, consider taking on a mentorship role as well.
      •  Hve been doing this for 5 years (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        For the last 3 years my students have had the highest math scores in my school.  I have homeless students, transient students, several ADHD and special education students in my classroom.  This is not a specially selected "talented and gifted" classroom.  My point is that ALL students can achieve, despite their circumstances.

        When you win, they don't call you a "celebrity. They call you Mr. President!

        by Teach53 on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:36:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Another issue (0+ / 0-)

    Imagine a world where teacher pay is based on scores, but that it's done in a "fair" way, meaning that it's based on improvement during the school year as opposed to overall success.  

    If that were the case, then teachers and admin would simply downplay the first round of assessments.  If it's a possibility, it's going to happen.

    People don't get up in the morning and ask, Do I want single-payer or managed competition? Wellstone

    by otto on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:24:45 AM PST

  •  Lowest common denominator response from public (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am a former teacher. I retired because of the stress caused by both NCLB and the MCAS tests in Massachusetts as well as what I perceived as teacher-bashing from the general public.

    First some background. Massachusetts gave myself and other teachers lifetime certification...only to change the terms and require teachers like myself with more than 20 years of experience to take a teacher certification test that was both poorly written and completely incapable of assessing the necessary skills needed to be a teacher.

    Back in 1998 then Gov. Paul Cellucci (A man so ignorant and such a poor public speaker, he had the innate ability to make President G. W. Bush seem like a Rhodes Scholar in comparison, decided to pander to the public in an election year get tough on teachers scenario.

    Of course, nearly everyone in Mass. approved of the tests. Why? They naturally assumed that the tests would accurately determine that people who wished to be teachers would be qualified. The concept is laudable in the abstract, but the reality is that it is virtually impossible for a single test to determine which teachers are competent as well as weed out those who are not.

    Well a bunch of us sued the state, claiming the DoE was reneging on the lifetime certifcation.  We lost our case, but not on the merits, but rather as a knee-jerk election year reaction.

    As bad as the state certification tests were, they pale in comparison to the evil which is the NCLB, which IMO is essentially a stealth plan to get taxpayers to finance religious indoctrination education.

    Allow me to explain. NCLB was set up so a school can be defined as failing if a number of cohorts fail to pass the exam. In plain English, that is a sub group of students such as non-English speakers, special needs students, etc. Because the number of students in a school, and therefore per cohort, is in flux, these exams are compare apples to pineapples as some districts have a massive turnover of students for a variety of reasons.

    Moreover, NCLB and exams like MCAS tend to discriminate against poorer school districts, particularly urban and rural districts. People move more frequently in these districts. A number of students are homeless as well. Indeed, one district near where I live, is a coastal community and often people become homeless during the summer tourist season when rentals and long term hotels raise their rates.

    IMO NCLB and MCAS punish these districts harshly, which is ironic because the rationale for these standards was that it would improve the quality of thse schools. The standards do nothing of the sort.

    Additionally, different states often have widely varying standards as to what constitutes a passing grade. Arkansas sets the bar ridiculously low, with 30% being a passing score. States that actually try to make the standard higher, like Mass., are only increasing the odds of having more failing schools than those states that opt for low standards.

    This gets me to my last point, these exams create an atmosphere that encourages cheating. If teachers have a reasonable belief they will be fired for being held responsible for the the passing rates of their students, these teachers will help the students teach. Likewise, administrators at these schools may also encourage cheating because they are the supervisors of these teachers and anything that reflects poorly on the school and the district in general puts them at risk of being fired as well.

    For these reasons, merit pay for test scores is deeply flawed and should be halted.

  •  Basically, if you fix the society, economically (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cai, CMYK

    and socially, you fix the school system.

    "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

    by lordcopper on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 08:30:39 AM PST

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