The Florida senate recently passed a bill that gets rid of seniority based pay for teachers and replaces it with a performance based system. Apparently half of the performance assessment will be based on test scores.
Since I am a professor and not a teacher, this will have no impact on me. Thanks to budget cuts, merit based pay increases are a thing of the distant past. However, I am generally in favor of tying pay to job performance. This, one might say, just makes sense. One reason is that it provides a motivation to do a better job (or a motivation not to do a worse job. Another reason is that it seems to be just and fair.
The concept of performance pay is simple: better performance yields better pay. The challenge is working out how to objectively measure performance in education.
As noted above, the plan is that half of the assessment will be based on test scores. On one hand, this would seem to provide an objective measure of how well a teacher is doing. On the other hand, using tests as a measure is fraught with problems.
One concern is whether the tests actually measure true learning as opposed to the ability to take such tests. Having taught classes on standardized tests, I learned that there are numerous ways to teach students how to do well on these tests that really have nothing to do with what might be considered “real” education. Teachers could simply train students to well on these tests without actually teaching what should be taught.
A second concern is developing a fair, objective and secure system for such tests that adequately controls for factors that are beyond a teacher’s control. To use an obvious example, a teacher teaching at a well funded school located in a rich neighborhood who happens to have the best students in her class will no doubt get some very good test scores. In contrast, a teacher at a woefully underfunded school in a terrible neighborhood who has been assigned the worst students at the school will have rather bad test scores. As such, the testing methodology will need to sort out these sorts of factors if it is to be used to determine teacher pay.
Based on my own experience in education, test scores do have some limitations as measures of teaching performance. For example, I teach two sections of Ethics in the fall. I use the same material, tests, and papers. Yet I have ended up with very different test averages in the classes, although my teaching ability is obviously the same in both. The main variable factor seems to be, obviously enough, the students.
If such factors can be adequately controlled, then the test scores would be useful measures, to a degree. However, resting so much of the evaluation on a single factor does seem problematic.
However, I do think that linking pay to performance is a good idea, provided that a fair system of assessing performance can be established and instituted.