Merit based pay for teachers doesn’t consider the whole picture

I have been and continue to be a supporter of President Obama’s accomplishments and most of what he is intending to do. However, the merit based pay that our president and so many other politicians and policy makers want to enact doesn’t help situations and isn’t appropriate unless some qualifiers can be added into the evaluation. I understand the desire to hold our educators accountable to their task, this happens in other jobs and is reasonable. I understand that teachers are supposed to teach students and that there should be improvement in the capabilities and knowledge base of students, this too is reasonable, as long as mitigating circumstances are also considered. So my issue is not with accountability.

My problem is with the unfair way that student improvement is measured. The measure for student improvement is a test that all students take each year: in Idaho the IRI. Using this test as the sole basis for determining whether students are learning is, I believe, a flawed way to measure teacher performance. To begin with the least of the flaws, there are students who have challenges with taking tests, just like there are students with different intelligence types who don’t fair well with our verbal linguistic oriented education system. Additionally, there are students for whom English is a second language and not one of which they have adequate proficiency. Then there are the children whose challenges ( IQ, developmental issues, learning disabilities, students with challenges such as DOWNS Syndrome or Autism, and students with significant psycho-social issues) hinder or preclude their ability to make significant progress and who will probably always fall below the standard established and measured by this test. Lastly there are so many students these days whose home life is deficient and or not safe. There are children living in cars, abused children, hungry children and/or so many other circumstances that hinder their ability to progress. Maslow’s hierarchy demonstrates that when the lower more basic needs in our lives are not met, i.e. our safety, our shelter, food in our stomachs, social stimulation, etc. aren’t met, the ability to grow and proceed in higher levels of actualization are hindered.

Yet none of these mitigating circumstances are considered in the merit based pay initiatives. Such issues are for many teachers are insurmountable, depending on the demographics of the populations they are serving. While many of the students can show substantial improvement, others of their peers won’t and probably never will reach normal and appropriate levels due to some of the challenges listed above. Consider the plight of teachers whose classrooms are specifically dedicated to helping our challenged populations. Some schools have greater percentages of the above mentioned limitations that others, so not only will many of the teachers fail to benefit from merit based pay, but schools are also penalized because of low scores, when the reason for the low scores has nothing inherently to do with their performance.

So while the desire for accountability is good and appropriate, the choice of measuring improvement and progress without the ability to make reasonable adjustments because of these mitigating circumstances is simply unfair.

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