Bruce Upper Elementary is one of only 10 schools in Mississippi approved for a pilot merit-pay program for teachers as part of a national effort to improve student performance. Unfortunately, it's just another poorly thought out policy further deteriorating our children's education.
The state Department of Education "won" a $10.9 million grant to launch the "pay-for-performance program" called "New Direction." The program provides for improved training, data study and evaluations of teachers, which all sounds very good, but it's all geared toward, and based on, state testing.
The bottom line of the program is BUES teachers will receive $2,500 bonuses if students improve their scores by an appreciable amount on state tests. So if you're going to be judged by how your students perform on a specific test, and you have an extra $2,500 riding on how well they do, what are you going to do? You would do what anybody would – teach the test and little else. It's a simple case of self-preservation.
We’re already giving at least three practice tests, prior to the actual state test in most of our schools each year. Each of those tests takes approximately three to four days to administer. So you’re giving up four weeks of the school year just for state testing. Most of those other weeks, understandably in the system we’re in, are spent teaching those tests.
I have frequently written about my disdain for putting so much emphasis on standardized tests, teaching the tests and evaluating teachers based on how a student performs on these tests.
"I just don’t believe you can accurately correlate how good a teacher is based on how well a student performs on a specific test," I wrote in my Aug. 25, 2010 column. "That’s not to say teachers can’t have a tremendous impact on helping a student improve, but it shouldn’t be life or death for that teacher and school if that child does or doesn’t."
The irony of the grant award is that it comes days after Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives released a study showing that bonuses of up to $15,000 did not lead to significant differences in teacher performance.
I’m not opposed to a merit pay system for teachers, but I don’t believe it should solely be based on state tests. There’s more to an education than can be crammed into a multiple choice question.
There are still a lot of unknowns regarding this program, which I’m sure has some positive aspects. But in the end, it all comes back to the test scores. That's the driving force behind all of these modern day policies and programs, which is just absolutely wrong.
I hope the test scores go up and the BUES teachers get the money being offered, but that won’t fix the problems in our educational system. There is no evidence that merit pay enhances student achievement. I don't believe there's any evidence that standardized tests enhance a student's education.
We, as a nation, have to get away from this flawed mission of trying to improve standardized test scores and shift our focus to improving education.