In the corporate world, salaries are often linked to job performance.  How should teachers be evaluated?  Should teacher salaries be linked to test scores?  There are several factors to consider in the debate over merit pay.

On the surface, it sounds like a great idea.  If all the students in a teacher’s classroom score highly on standardized tests, they should get paid more.  High test scores obviously mean that teacher is good, and low test scores mean they are bad, right?

Not so fast…

Problems arise when we look at reasons for low test scores in any given classroom.  There may be a high number of Special Education students or English Language Learners (ELL)—both of which can lower test scores.

Problems with merit pay Image: Jeff Parker / Florida Today

Problems with merit pay
Image: Jeff Parker / Florida Today

Does that mean the teacher was a bad teacher?  Not necessarily.  Success may be better indicated by comparing student work from the beginning and end of the year to see how much they improved rather than how high they were in general.

If too much emphasis is put onto standardized test scores as the epitome of learning, then we are missing the mark.  It may put teachers into a position of feeling they need to “teach to the test,” taking all the fun out of teaching and learning.  The more we pigeonhole learning into this “box” of what is appropriate, the less innovative and creative it becomes.  That can, in turn, lead to boredom and burnout.

Let’s be honest.  We know that teachers do not go into the job for the sake of money.  They usually join because they love working with kids and love teaching.  What makes anyone think teachers will be motivated by the prospect of more money or that it will automatically lead to better teaching?

How, exactly will these teachers get better?  Without any sort of support system, mentorship or professional development, it is doubtful that it will just magically happen.

On the other side of the coin, if teachers feel their job is on the line, they may become motivated to inflate test scores or compete against one other making for a toxic school environment.

Let’s find a better way to assess teachers.

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