The obsession among school reformers with standardized test scores and merit pay has led to this: A fourth-grade teacher at a charter school in New Orleans won a $43,056 bonus because her students’ scores skyrocketed at a school with a “D” state rating. But there’s more.
But another teacher in the charter school network in which Capdau belongs, Capital One New Beginnings Charter School Network, saw a 165 percent jump in test scores. Alas, her students are kindergarteners and they are not part of the state’s school accountability system (though note that the kindergarteners actually took standardized tests.) Teacher Ashleigh Pelafigue got a bonus of $4,086.
Williams was one of five teachers in the New Beginnings charter network to receive a total of $167,669, The Lens said.
Merit pay programs have been implemented in school systems periodically for many decades, and none have been shown to be effective as an incentive for better performance by educators. Furthermore, researchers say that the method by which test scores are used to evaluate teachers — known as value-added — are too unreliable to be of real use in assessment. The Lens quoted Laura Hamilton, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research and development think-tank as saying:
There’s no evidence that tying bonuses to student achievement itself is an effective way to improve student learning.
Still, value-added assessment and merit pay are favored by school reformers who believe that using a business model to run public schools will improve teacher performance and student achievement. It hasn’t yet after years of trying, and critics say it has actually made a bad situation even worse.
So now we have situations where a teacher at a “D”-rated school (it was rated “D-minus” the year before) sees a miraculous jump in test scores and gets a bonus that, The Lens says,
far exceeded her salary was about 75 percent of her salary. But is that any stranger than the story of Kim Cook, an award-winning teacher at Irby Elementary in Alachua, Florida? Forty percent of her evaluation was based on the test scores of students she never taught. Really. (You can read about it here.)
These examples are symptomatic of something that has gone very wrong with school reform.