Monday, October 17, 2011

teacher pay for performance

I'm an engineer and computer programmer. One of the things that bothers me is that my employers, and i'm talking about managers here, almost never have a clue about how good or otherwise my performance is. I'd have thought that one would get an idea based on productivity or problem solving, or problem anticipation, or something. It simply doesn't happen. Most managers have little or no technical competence of their own. They don't seem to have any way to judge the performance of any of their direct reports with respect to others. They mostly either like you personally, or they don't.

As a contractor, i've changed positions frequently, so i've gotten to participate in numerous interviews. These too, have been nearly without exception, awful. More than a few have subjected me to a "quiz". For no apparent reason, i generally have performed quite poorly on these quizzes. One exception revolved around a research question that would be worthy of a Master's Thesis. I'd never seen the problem before. Though i was not able to come to a solution in 20 minutes, my direction was at least tenable. So, my performance has historically been good on impossible questions, but poor otherwise.

In a few cases, i've gotten a new manager at an old job where the new manager subjected me to a quiz. These have also been awful gages of performance. Why have tests been so bad?

I've talked about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program that G. W. Bush pushed into law. The idea here seems to have been that 1) teacher's own test scores do not correspond with student competence, so 2) we'll test students, and reward teachers with improvements in student's scores. A logical problem with this approach is that student's scores on testing also does not correspond well with student competence.

I've just read the editorial in the AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, Summer 2011 edition. It lists a number of further points. These include the fact that NCLB was rolled out to the nation, but never tested. There are numerous statistical issues with what students are tested for what teachers, and how the response to the program is to "play the program", without concern for the education of students. For example, let's say that you are a Special Education teacher. All of your students have been given to you because they are behind. But there's no policy that protects you as a teacher. Even if you improve your student's test scores dramatically (though they're still below average), you'll be penalized. This editorial talks about how some students have been encouraged to drop out of school and pursue a GED, instead of staying in school, and lowering the average test scores for the school. This doesn't help the students. And so on. The details are important. I highly encourage everyone to read the above referenced article.

As an engineer, i don't have pay for performance unless i go into business for myself. And, even then, i only have pay for performance if i get all the business stuff right, and perhaps, am lucky. But now it appears that even if i'm an above average engineer (whatever that means), this is a good thing - judging by the teaching profession.

If we want our kids to do better in school, we have to be smarter than this. We need to use systems that work, proven in pilot programs. Our current system, forged in the general incompetence of politics, doesn't work.


Programmer, Teacher, Taxer said...

One of the most important parts of the NCLB law is its insistence that all students, make progress, not just average affluent student performance with less capable to come up with a winning number. The rules are forceful, with a lot of options for the school district, but difficult to circumvent.

I struggle with the testing issue also. Good teachers will produce better test results. But no one will be able to explain to you how.

In Massachusettes, MCAS taxes two weeks out of the calendar. Politicians underestimate the readiness of some younger students to take high stakes tests. As an escaped special needs teacher, I have been assigned "kleenex" duty, mopping up those students who fail their moral check when confronted with a difficult essay question.

But before we throw out NCLB, we better come up with a way to make districts teach all the students, not just the smart ones.

Stephen said...

There are a few hints on how to get students to do better on tests. On multiple choice tests, students can be told to cross out the obviously wrong answers. For example, if the multiplication problem is 23 * 57, do the least significant digit. 3 * 7 = 21. So cross off any answers that don't end in "1". If there's only one answer remaining, it must be right.

Stephen said...

In Michigan, the MEAP tests take place in the Fall, usually October. These tests are supposed to test the school. But the school has only had these students for a month. So the test is, at best, testing the student's previous school. If the tests are held at the end of the school year, then teachers don't have any time to teach the curriculum, as they'll spend the entire year teaching the test. If these are two different things, then, obviously, the test isn't testing the right thing. Right?

The article (which has references), says that students who also take the very-similar NEAP tests don't also show improvement on that test. That means that the high stakes measured scores are meaningless. So, all the stress is for what, exactly?