"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Folly and Unfairness . . .Part II

Rachel Squires Bloom
Part Two:  How Tying Teacher Salaries to Test Scores Will Unravel the Student-Teacher Bond

Tying teacher pay to standardized test scores would irremediably and inevitably result in the destruction of the many interconnected relationships on which learning is built, including the vital and inviolable relationship between student and teacher.  Doing so creates clear disincentive for teachers to work with districts, schools, or classrooms which contain student populations who historically do not perform well on standardized tests.  The mentality that certain student populations generate higher salaries would inevitably and unconscionably damage teacher/student relationships.
Students whose scores often remain entrenched in the Needs Improvement or Warning categories of standardized tests come overwhelmingly from populations which fare poorly on the limited measure provided by such assessments. Teachers with influence could jockey for placement in wealthier schools, and teachers with less influence and experience – often the newest teachers – would end up at schools with student populations who do poorly on standardized test, i.e., poor schools.  This caste system would result in the least-experienced teachers being in classrooms containing students with the greatest educational, emotional, social and economic needs.  Boundaries would quickly be drawn along economic, cultural and race lines. Certain schools in a district, and certain districts themselves, would be considered “dumping grounds” for teachers without sufficient experience or who lack professional connections.
Teachers already feel pressure to focus on the curricular shards that are tested at the expense of a rich, relevant curriculum. There is temptation for districts to pressure teachers to focus on student groups whose scores could be boosted to whatever number or category was deemed worthy of enhancing a paycheck.  Students would not be viewed as unique components parts of a dynamic classroom of individuals.  In some classrooms, students on the lowest and higher ends of ability and achievement may be neglected, as they would provide less “bang for the buck.” One teacher spoke of how when students would enter her classroom she would think of them as “pay cut” or “bonus.”  This is harsh, but the reality is that a model that explicitly ties children’s scores to monetary worth creates such an atmosphere. Even caring, effective and empathetic teachers would to some degree be aware of how individual students may influence their pay.  High-achieving students could be left behind as well if teachers believe that effort is better spent on students whose scores can be edged upward.  Most teachers take seriously their responsibility for the academic and emotional progress for every student in their class.  It is ironic that altering (and damaging) one of the most important adult relationship that children have would indeed leave many children far behind.      
Relationships among teachers would also suffer if teacher are linked to test scores.  Ideally, colleagues support, inspire, collaborate with, empathize with, and mentor one another.  Teacher collaboration at grade level and on vertical teams is an integral area of support and creativity within which teachers create, implement and fine tune curriculum and instruction.  If standardized test scores become part of the evaluation of teacher quality, collaborative relationships would transform into competitive ones. Within schools and districts, teachers would explicit or implicitly be set against rather one another as they competed to teach the most remunerative student groups.  Even if unconsciously, favoritism and “who you know” would become factors (more than they currently may be) when deciding teacher placement.  Some teachers would request and even campaign for transfers to wealthier schools within districts.  Teachers would inevitably be pitted against other teachers in assuring that their classes are “stacked” with high achieving students, with students apt to earn low standardized test scores (students with special educational needs, English language learners and student in poverty) unwanted before they even set foot in a classroom.
It is difficult to see how tying pay raises to standardized test scores would serve as an incentive for teachers to design stronger, engaging and comprehensive curriculum, or to give effective and empathetic instruction.  The person who has entered the field of education in order to become wealthy has not yet been found.  Caring educators become involved in the field for many reasons; getting rich is not one of them.  There is a perception that teachers and their unions of entitled whiners, but that is far from the case; teachers take seriously the job of education the students in their charge, and consider themselves accountable for student achievement.  Teachers, parents and administrators value and measure this achievement in ways far more comprehensively than can be measured by numbers, particularly when numbers are the limited data produced by standardized tests.  Tying teacher pay to scores will not make teachers more accountable for student achievement, but will have a greatly negative impact on the relationships at the heart of student learning and growth.

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