Fla. to Link Teacher Pay To Students' Test Scores

Students at North Twin Lakes Elementary School in Hialeah, Fla., gear up for state standardized tests with a pep rally.
Students at North Twin Lakes Elementary School in Hialeah, Fla., gear up for state standardized tests with a pep rally. (By Peter Whoriskey -- The Washington Post)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

HIALEAH, Fla. -- A new pay-for-performance program for Florida's teachers will tie raises and bonuses directly to pupils' standardized-test scores beginning next year, marking the first time a state has so closely linked the wages of individual school personnel to their students' exam results.

The effort, now being adopted by local districts, is viewed as a landmark in the movement to restructure American schools by having them face the same kind of competitive pressures placed on private enterprise, and advocates say it could serve as a national model to replace traditional teacher pay plans that award raises based largely on academic degrees and years of experience.

Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has characterized the new policy, which bases a teacher's pay on improvements in test scores, as a matter of common sense, asking, "What's wrong about paying good teachers more for doing a better job?"

But teachers unions and some education experts say any effort to evaluate teachers exclusively on test-score improvements will not work, because schools are not factories and their output is not so easily measured. An exam, they say, cannot measure how much teachers have inspired students, or whether they have instilled in them a lifelong curiosity. Moreover, some critics say, the explicit profit motive could overshadow teacher-student relationships.

"Standardized tests don't measure everything in a child's life in school," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, which is appealing the new pay policy to a state administrative judge. "We should take a look at the total education and not just what they can put on a bubble sheet."

The pay program approved last month by the Board of Education is mandatory and intended to ensure compliance with a 2002 Florida law requiring performance pay for teachers. The policy comes amid growing debate about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which Bush has put at the center of his school-restructuring plan.

The tests are already used to determine whether students pass or fail certain grades, and schools that test well, or better than the previous year, are rewarded with bonuses that are typically divided among teachers and staff, amounting in some cases to more than $1,000 a year.

Many schools now hold elaborate pep rallies for students before the tests, as North Twin Lakes Elementary did here recently. Dressed in T-shirts that said "We can do it!" the children sang to the tune of Lou Bega's hit "Mambo No. 5."

Put a little FCAT in my life/A little bit of reading by my side/A little bit of writing is all I need . . .

I'm doing good on FCAT/Yes I am .

"The FCAT doesn't measure everything, but what does?" asked Principal A. Louise Harms, who has presided over significant improvements in test scores at the school. "It gives you something to shoot for."

But with such successes have come complaints. Under pressure to score well on tests, some school districts have moved school start dates back to early August to complete extra weeks of instruction before March exams. This has aroused the ire of many parents, and others have complained that with the tests have come too much pressure and too much homework.

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