Grading The Teachers: Performance Often Not Reflected In Pay

Toledo 7th grade teacher Emily Brown helps students with a science experiment on the motion of waves. Brown has been rated most effective in math twice, and most effective than average in reading.(Photo: IDA LIESZKOVSZKY / STATEIMPACT OHIO)
Toledo 7th grade teacher Emily Brown helps students with a science experiment on the motion of waves. Brown has been rated most effective in math twice, and most effective than average in reading.(Photo: IDA LIESZKOVSZKY / STATEIMPACT OHIO)

Students in Emily Brown’s Toledo classroom conduct an experiment on the movement of waves.

While she drops a block of clay into an aluminum tray filled with water and watches the waves spread out, 7th grader Angel Hines explains why she likes Mrs. Brown.

“She actually lets us grade her so she knows if she’s doing something wrong she’ll fix it.”

The state of Ohio grades Brown too, and they agree she’s a good teacher. Last year, her value-added score for mathematics was “most effective,” the highest of five ratings.

Value-added is a statistical model that rates and individual teachers based on the amount of progress their students make over the course of one year. Brown is one of about 16,000 teachers the state already has value-added scores for.

PERFORMANCE NOT REFLECTED PAYCHECKS

Brown would like to see her stellar performance reflected in her paycheck. It isn’t. Brown makes about $3,000 less than the average Toledo teacher, and that’s not unusual.
According to an analysis by StateImpact Ohio and the Plain Dealer, there is little correlation between a teacher’s performance and how much they are paid. Across the state, teachers who score the lowest on this new “value added” measurement frequently make more than those who score the highest.

Ohio is hardly unique in this disconnect between pay and performance.

“There’s nothing inherent in the way teachers are paid that would necessarily reward their performance,” says Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington.

GLOWING REVIEWS

Under the current system pay increases are based on years of service and getting advanced degrees. Evaluations largely consist of brief classroom observations and have almost nothing to do with pay, by union contract.

Goldhaber says the way the system is set up, pretty much everybody gets a glowing review.

“So if everybody gets a glowing review you can’t use performance evaluations for anything, and that’s a big problem when you think about changing the quality of the workforce.”

Another finding from the StateImpact and Plain Dealer investigation found that older, more experienced teachers are paid more than younger teachers, but older teachers do not generally outperform young ones.

“NOT YEARS OF EXPERIENCE AND MASTERS”

Cleveland schools has noticed this trend too, and recently moved to adopt a differentiated pay system, one that rewards performance and takes into account value-added.

“It is not years of experience and masters, that’s exactly what we’ve set aside,” Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon says.

Other districts are moving in a similar direction, experimenting with varying performance pay models. Eventually, value-added could effect up to half of a teacher’s overall grade, decide their pay and even whether they have a job.

CAN’T QUANTIFY EVERYTHING

These are exactly the types of changes that makes Melissa Cropper nervous; she’s president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

“I do think that teachers need to be held accountable,” she says. “I just don’t think that you can quantify everything, and when you try to quantify everything it takes away from what good teaching actually is.”

Advocates for this new data-based performance measure disagree. They say the whole point of gathering all this data and analyzing it is to identify what good teaching is, and who the good teachers are.

Value-added, they say, should help schools keep good teachers, weed out the bad ones, and help those who want and need to improve to do so.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

VALUE-ADDED “A WAKE UP CALL”

Columbus teacher Katie Zielke says the first time she saw her value-added score of least effective, “it was a wake up call.”

“I thought I was doing things right, you always think you’re doing your best and then I kind of went wow, what I was doing was not right, it was not my best.”

That’s exactly the kind of introspection advocates hope value-added will inspire.

Whether most teachers eventually embrace the new measurement is an open question. Many have doubts about its accuracy and fairness.

The public is just starting to understand it.

The conversation in Ohio and other states using it is just beginning.

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