Measuring up

One of the most sensitive areas of developing a performance pay plan for teachers is evaluation. In too many schools there is nothing even close to accurate, objective, and timely evaluation of teacher performance.

The normal procedure in most school districts is supposed to go like this: Once or twice each year, the principal conducts a preliminary conference, at least one classroom observation, and a post-conference with each teacher in his/her building. In reality, many building principals are too overwhelmed with their bureaucratic obligations to evaluate every teacher thoroughly, even if they are inclined to do so.

Some principals resort to survival tactics, such as filling out annual teacher evaluation forms based on what they saw last year (or two years ago). Some omit the pre and post conferences, and do a “walk-by” evaluation (peeking through the classroom door as they rush down the hall to the day’s next crisis). More than a few have used evaluations to settle personal scores or win loyalty.

Fortunately, there are schools with highly effective principals. Some have found ways to reduce or eliminate distractions, in some cases by collaborating more closely with teachers. There are some administrators who handle teacher evaluation very well. There are many who do not. Or, who don’t know how. (Here’s a story I shared in our TLN discussion group.)

Most teachers are highly skeptical, and rightfully so, of pay plans that would rely on the current system of principal evaluations as the foundation for measuring teacher performance. This is where advocates of value-added methodologies usually jump up and say: “Eureka! Here’s an objective way to measure every teacher’s performance using students’ standardized test scores.” Which would be great—if it were true.

But the work of almost two-thirds of America’s teachers cannot be measured using standardized test results. Even for the one-third of teachers for whom such test data is available, current value-added methods are limited in what they can actually tell us about those teachers’ performances, particularly those of us who teach either highly transient students or high achieving ones.

One of the greatest benefits of designing a truly professional compensation system for educators may be that it helps free us all from the antiquated factory/plantation labor model that still cripples our schools and our profession. As stated in our recent TeacherSolutions report, a carefully designed performance pay plan must be built around some crucial pillars that give teachers, administrators, and the rest of the tax-paying public real guidelines for determining teacher effectiveness.

A performance pay plan should reward teachers who:

  • Help their students make significant academic gains.
  • Effectively assess student progress and use that data to tailor instruction to individual student needs.
  • Work in teams, especially small ones, to accelerate student achievement.
  • Increase their own knowledge and skills to meet the specific identified needs of their students.
  • Document and share the impact that new knowledge and skills have on student learning.
  • Acquire new knowledge and skills that meet the needs and strategic goals of local schools.
  • Agree to teach in high needs schools, when they have demonstrated the necessary qualities and skills to be successful in those schools.
  • Have the qualifications and experience to fulfill high-needs demand positions in the local labor market.
  • Improve instruction by providing guidance and support to their colleagues through mentoring and peer coaching.
  • Lead innovations in teaching and learning at the school and district level.
  • Work with parents, community members, and colleagues to bridge the gap between home and school.
  • Provide leadership and guidance on educational policy at all levels.

Those of you who have been through the National Board Certification process will recognize several of these characteristics. Teacher evaluation and teacher pay should be based on how many of these characteristics an educator consistently exhibits and their quality.

This is how we’ll put (and keep) high quality teachers in every classroom.

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