The topic of merit based pay for teachers has been in the news a lot lately, and as such, it's been on my mind. If it's been on your mind, I'd love to hear what you have to say, just promise that if you don't have an email registered to your account, you'll leave an email in the comments so we can discuss this more.
Do I think teachers are underpaid? YES. But do I want to see us paid more (or less) based on our test scores? NO. While I think that there are absolutely teachers out there who should not be teaching, I do not think paying them based on standardized test scores is the answer. I do think, on some level, it needs to be easier to get rid of mediocre teachers. My principal does drop in evaluations constantly (and always tells me that I rock, can I just brag a bit?), but if he sees a teacher who he doesn't think is competent, it's not that easy to get rid of the teacher. Honestly, he'd have to walk in on a teacher snorting cocaine off of their desk before it became easy.
I do feel that there will be far too much lost if we begin to judge teachers based on test scores. Let me preface this by saying that of the students I had last year (Indiana usually tests in the fall, so those scores reflect my teaching), 92% of them achieved a score in the 95th percentile on their fall tests. So, likely, I'd get a raise, but I don't want it--not that way. I don't feel that my worth as a teacher comes from how well my students do on those tests. And if my worth as a teacher starts to come from how those students do on a test, here is what will happen:
My students will be able to tell you what figurative language is, but they won't be able to use it to write a poem about a beautiful spring day. Nor will they be able to tell you about the day we used our five senses to describe cookies.
My students will be able to tell you what a ballad is, but they won't be able to tell you about The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
My students will be able to tell you the components of a fiction story, but they won't be able to tell you about the day we wrote a round robin story.
My students will be able to tell you how to write dialogue, but they won't be able to tell you about the day that I used Star Wars action figures to demonstrate it.
Will not knowing the second half of those elements make or break their lives? Of course not, I'm not foolish enough to think so. But does the second half of those equations make them want to be in my classroom? Yes, it does. And if I must teach to the test even more so than I already do, I won't have time for those things. I will have time to spit facts and definitions at my students before we review those facts and definitions, before we drill, drill, drill to make sure they know every key element. One of the biggest complaints from people who choose to home school is that they do so because public education strips individuality from students and learning. I want to cry when I hear this because it's unfair and because it's true. It's unfair because there's not a thing teachers can do about it, because we're already forced to teach so much to the test. Don't you think I'd love to take my students outside once a week to write about flowers? Good God, yes, but I can't. I do what I can, though, to make sure that they can still grow in their own ways, but if you make my pay based on tests, I'll lose that.
In the end, that's what scares me when it comes to merit based pay. I'm not scared that I'll lose my job, I'm not scared that my students will fail the tests, I'm scared that I'll lose that little spark I can still ignite in my students.