Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Absurdity of Basing Teacher Pay on Test Scores

On the surface, it makes a great deal of sense. Today's general population public education student is judged almost entirely by their scores on yearly standardized tests, so it seems rational to establish a teacher pay system based upon how successful students are on those tests.

Teachers whose students perform exceedingly well on the tests are obviously doing a great job, and deserve to have a raise to go along with that job. After all, executives in corporate America get performance-based pay, why shouldn't teachers, whose job is so much more important?

All things being equal, that seems perfectly fair.

But all things are NOT equal. In fact, things are anything BUT equal.

I recently volunteered at a Dallas ISD high school, where I've been doing some work to help administration deal with their most challenging students. I got to know a few of the "bad kids," and really there weren't too many surprises. Basically, once a student has been labeled as a "bad kid" we find that teachers tend to look for ways to keep them out of their classrooms, even to the extent of causing an altercation in the hall before class as an excuse to send the student to the office rather than welcome them into the class.

There are bad eggs in every profession, and teaching is absolutely not an exception.

This "bad kid" scenario has taken a nasty turn for the worse now, however, in the light of test scores being used as a primary means of evaluating teacher performance.

One of the students I was working with was so polite, so eager to learn and so responsible that I pulled the principal aside between activities to ask what on earth got the young man labeled a "bad kid." He said the teacher who sent him out of class that day does so every day, and the primary reason why is because this student doesn't do well on the standardized test.

In my day teachers spent EXTRA time with students who were struggling with the material, they didn't send them to office on some bogus discipline charge to avoid having the student in class at all.

Welcome to the age of test-based pay.

Standardized test are a poor excuse for good teaching, and a standardized curriculum is a poor substitute for education. These methods are driving good teachers away from the field, and what's left are either unimaginative, lazy people who just want the time off, and the dwindling number of incredibly committed teachers who refuse to abandon their posts even in the light of more and more ridiculous educational programs.

Basing teacher pay on test scores may seem like a good idea, but when you're out there in the classroom, where national and  even state level administration types dare not go, you see that it's undermining a public education system that was already in steep decline.

If we're going to rescue education in America we're going to have to ask teachers to think outside of the box, not keep stuffing them inside the tired old box that never fit to begin with.


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