Monday, January 16, 2006

Houston Ties Teachers' Pay to Test Scores

I quote here Gayle Fallon, president of [Houston] United Federation of Teachers, "No one has been able to show us one ounce of research that paying teachers for test scores improves performance..." Another comment made below with which I agree is that teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum will occur. This also creates a disincentive to teach those "hardest to teach" children since the "easier" kids will be preferred. The research base is indeed lacking for this as well. -Angela

January 13, 2006
Houston Ties Teachers' Pay to Test Scores

HOUSTON, Jan. 12 - Over the objections of the teachers' union, the
Board of Education here on Thursday unanimously approved the nation's
largest merit pay program, which calls for rewarding teachers based on how
well their students perform on standardized tests.

The $14.5 million program, which immediately replaces a model with lower incentives, would distribute up to $3,000
annually per teacher and up to $25,000 for senior administrators.

Abelardo Saavedra, the Houston superintendent of schools, praised the vote, saying that it "will ensure that the academic
growth of each child is important and will be compensated." Houston business leaders also supported the change.

But Gayle Fallon, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents about 40 percent of the district's 12,300
teachers, condemned the program as misguided. In its place, Ms. Fallon called for
across-the-board raises to lift Houston from what shesaid was the low-paying end of area school districts.

"No one has been able to show us one ounce of research that paying teachers for test scores improves performance," she

The 9-to-0 vote at the board meeting of the Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, with 210,000
children, opened a new front in the national dispute over teacher merit pay and excited
particular emotion in a city bruised by a cheating scandal that called some schools' test results into question.

Critics were quick to compare Houston's plan with one adopted in November in Denver after much study and consultation
with the teachers' union there. Other programs have been tried, with varying
success, in New York and Kentucky, educators said.

Houston has had a teacher pay-performance program in place since 2000, but officials said the latest version was an effort to
tie the rewards more closely to student gains attributable not only to
schools but to individual teachers.

The pay incentives are to be based on three components, or "strands."

One will reward teachers based on how much their school's test scores have improved compared with the scores of 40 other
schools with similar demographics around the state. Another will comparestudent progress on the Stanford 10 Achievement test and its Spanish-language equivalent to that of students in similar classrooms in the Houston district. The
third measure will be student progress on the statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, as compared with that in similar Houston classrooms.

About half the district's teachers will be eligible for stipends in all three categories, for a total of $3,000. The system's 305 principals with the best-achieving teachers could earn as much as $6,000 in merit pay, and the 19 executive principals and five regional superintendents will be eligible for up to $25,000.

But some teachers who addressed the board on Thursday complained that the plan bypassed arts teachers and others whose
subjects were not covered by the tests.

Andrew Gass, a lawyer, said the plan "fails to reward teachers of special ed students or pre-K or kindergarten teachers"
and "forces teachers to teach to the test rather than focus on real academic achievement in the classroom."

Ms. Fallon of the teachers' union said the board would do better to raise the starting salary of teachers, at $36,050 the
lowest of 10 major districts in the area. Mr. Saavedra, the superintendent, acknowledged that "the salary schedule needs attention" but said the position of Houston's teachers improved markedly with seniority.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York, contrasted the Houston plan unfavorably with the one in Denver. That plan offers the system's 4,300 teachers a choice of enrolling in a merit pay program or accepting standard raises, although new hires must enter the merit pay plan. So far, 735 teachers have chosen the merit option, said a Denver school spokesman, Mark Stevens.

Rigorous statewide testing to gauge student achievement has been an article of faith in Texas for years. But in 1999 the
Texas Education Agency began investigating Houston and other districts because of suspicious results on the statewide test. Last year, the Houston school board said it had found evidence of cheating at four schools and testing
irregularities at seven more. A half-dozen teachers were fired, and several principals were demoted or reprimanded.

* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

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