Battles Launched Over “Pay for Performance”

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner, May 2010

Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed controversial legislation tying teacher pay to student test scores after being deluged with messages of outrage over the bill. But Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr. signed a bill limiting teacher tenure and making test scores and other measures of student growth count for 50% of teacher evaluation. Other states are moving ahead with similar legislation aimed at capturing a piece of Race to the Top money, despite evidence that these schemes will only exacerbate problems caused by No Child Left Behind’s focus on test scores.

Florida’s “Senate Bill 6” would have been expensive, calling for the development of new tests in every subject, paid for by cutting school operating expenses by 5%. Christ at first expressed support for the draconian and poorly thought out bill. However, in the face of an enormous public outcry, he acknowledged many of the concerns, including how students with special needs would be included in the new assessments.

Calls to Governor Crist’s office ran 22:1 against the bill. Researchers supported teachers’ contention that tying their pay to student test scores will cause more harm than good. After the legislature’s vote, a third of Miami-Dade teachers were absent from school on April 11, many calling in sick to protest the bill. A group of teachers drove from one end of the state to the other to meet with the governor and urge his veto. Students protested by wearing black. Florida parents also loudly protested the bill, with some pointing out the stress and harm to children who will know that their teachers’ fates rest with how they do on these tests.

Before the legislature’s vote, education historian and author Diane Ravitch, urged them to reject the plan. “I strongly believe that this bill will have very negative consequences for the children of the state of Florida. I believe that it will dumb down their education. I believe that it will cause many of your best teachers to leave the profession or the state because this legislation is so profoundly disrespectful towards the education profession,” Ravitch wrote. It remains to be seen if the outrage that washed over Crist creates reverberations that will affect the federal Race to the Top’s efforts to force similar changes across the nation.

In contrast to the Florida outcome, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat, signed into law a bill that dramatically limits teacher tenure and makes student growth, measured by test scores and student work, count for 50% of teacher evaluations. With heavy reliance on student test results, tenured teachers face termination if they are found “ineffective” for two years in a row. The Colorado affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers ended its opposition to the bill after several of its amendments were adopted. The National Education Association affiliate, the Colorado Education Association (CEA), the state’s largest teachers union, opposed the bill, then pledged to work on the law’s implementation while expressing ongoing concerns.

"For example, the law defines the outcomes of a new evaluation system before the council has had the chance to do its work of determining the system," said Beverly Ingle, CEA president. The 15-member Governor's Council for Educator Effectiveness is now charged with ironing out the details of the law’s implementation.

Other states are plowing ahead with ill-considered bills linking teacher evaluations to test scores in a desperate race for the federal trough. Delaware, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., Louisiana, and Indiana have all proposed or adopted this arbitrary and draconian 50% figure, despite no evidence that this is a reasonable or productive way to evaluate teachers. New York chose the equally arbitrary, but less extreme figure of 40%. Illinois has left the percentage up to local districts, except for districts labeled poor performers.