Written by Nancy Steinbach
Last month, the Florida Board of Education approved a program that will link increases in teachers’ pay to improvements in students’ test scores.
The program will take effect next school year. It increases a teacher’s pay if his or her students increase their scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The test measures reading and mathematics knowledge. It is now used to decide if students will pass to the next grade level. The state gives extra money to schools whose scores are good or have increased from the year before. Normally, the money is divided among the school workers.
The new program requires all school districts in the state to list the top ten percent of teachers in each subject area. These teachers will receive an increase of five percent in their yearly pay. For an average teacher, that would be about two thousand dollars.
Those who teach reading and mathematics will be judged on the test scores only. That is, how much their students have improved since the year before. But those who teach other subjects like geography, art and music will have to be judged differently. State officials say they will develop a system to do this.
Florida is not the only state with a plan to link teacher pay and student performance. Schools in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota have similar programs. But not all of them link pay with test scores alone.
Teacher groups around the country generally oppose such programs. They say it is not fair to judge teachers by how well students score on a test. They say many things affect a student’s test scores, such as learning problems or lack of sleep. They also say that there are other ways to judge strengths and weaknesses of students.
Some teachers say the quality of teaching will decrease if teachers are forced to compete with each other for money and praise. They fear that teachers will refuse to work in schools where many children have learning problems or do not speak English well.
Those who support the new pay programs say teachers must be judged the way other professionals are — by the results of their work. And they say that using student test scores is a true measure of a teacher’s performance.