In an effort to pay district employees more fairly, officials with the El Paso Independent School District are considering whether a merit-based pay system for teachers and other employees would be a feasible option. After the district approved a 2.5 percent pay raise for all employees in June, the board of managers asked district officials if teachers could be awarded raises based on performance. The board of managers expects the results of the research to be presented to them by the end of the year.
"We think that people who are performing above average ought to be rewarded," said Dee Margo, president of the board of managers. "And I think it's worth something to try and come up with something that attempts to
Reporter Alex Hinojosa
reward the best and the brightest. "A merit-based pay system has never been used at the district, said spokeswoman Renee De Santos. Lucy Clarke, president of the El Paso Federation of Teachers and Support Personnel, said a merit-based pay raise system may work if teachers were to receive a raise that was not heavily based on standardized-test scores. "There has to be some type of criteria that runs consistently throughout," Clarke said. "The criteria may not be the same for everyone because you have professional employees that are business related and instructional related, the teachers, and the hourly employees. There has to be something that requires objectivity as opposed to subjectivity."
districts across the state, including Dallas, Houston and Austin, have implemented a merit-based pay system. However, most do not use merit pay, the Texas State Teachers Association said. "Those that do tend to base their evaluations heavily on standardized test scores, which are an incomplete measure of a teacher's success," said Clay Robison, spokesman for the association. Such a system may lead to favoritism, intimidation and retaliation, undermining the educational quality because administrators have a financial incentive to do so, Robison said. The Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, implemented a performance-pay model for its teachers in 2007. The Accelerating Student Progress Increasing Results and Expectation, or ASPIRE Award, was meant to reward teachers for their efforts in improving the academic growth of their students, according to the Houston ISD. The merit-based system used indicators including campus improvement, classroom improvement and student federal accountability ratings to measure whether a teacher improved the performance of his or her class. According to a district study, about 10,233 teachers received the award when the program began, and that number increased to 16,544 during the 2009-10 school year. Student performance also showed improvement overall, according to the study. However, Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the measurements used to determine student achievement and classroom improvement is flawed and difficult to calculate. Fallon said that bonuses teachers receive are also unpredictable, with some teachers receiving more than $1,000 and others receiving less than $100. "ASPIRE is a nightmare based on flawed statistics," Fallon said. "No one can show it improves instruction. "The pay-for-performance system at Houston ISD is based on an algorithm developed by William Sanders, an agriculture professor at the University of Tennessee, that is used to assess breeding trends among livestock. This statistic has been used to link a student's performance in school to his or her teacher. Based on a student's scores, the algorithm is supposed to predict how much the student needs to improve. If that goal is met, the teacher receives a bonus. If a student misses that improvement marker, he or she is labeled as not improving, which gives the teacher a negative evaluation and makes him or her ineligible for a bonus. Several negative evaluations could result in the termination of that teacher, Fallon said. A further cause of frustration is deciding how a student's academic growth in the classroom should be measured, said Zeph Capo, vice president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers. This lack of clarity in measuring academic growth has resulted in several teachers avoiding certain student populations such as special needs, at-risk, English-language learners, and gifted and talented, Capo said. Recently, the district has also begun attaching the bonuses to a teacher's evaluation, resulting in the exodus of hundreds of teachers, Capo said. "We are preparing to fill up to 1,500 vacancies this coming year, and by the time we are done, we may have to fill about 2,000 vacancies," Capos said. "The fact that they are tying these measures to evaluations has resulted in the loss of many of our teachers, many who are leaving the district to work for other districts in the surrounding suburbs. "In the Dallas Independent School District, the pay-for-performance system was funded through the District Awards for Teacher Excellence, or DATE, grant in which teachers were expected to meet certain criteria set by the district and the state -- including attaining a high attendance rate -- to be considered for a raise. If the teachers met the goal, they received an additional stipend. But based on the criteria, the bonuses were mostly set aside for teachers who taught core classes and eventually failed, said Rena Hoena, president of the Dallas American Federation of Teachers. "It was a much failed attempt," Hoena said. "Grant money was used when it started and it was phased out when the grant money ran out."Hoena said the pay-for-performance system was put together quickly, which resulted in a lack of communication between the administration and the teachers. But based on its use, Hoena said it did little to increase student achievement. "What we found was that younger teachers tended to be more interested in the pay-for-performance stipends and the older teachers weren't," Hoena said. "But the plan to keep the pay for performance was not sustainable, and they want it to be based on student test scores, which is absolutely absurd in my opinion. "Before the EPISD considers approving a pay-for-performance model, the research needs to be done and input from district employees must be gathered so as not to fall into the same traps of basing everything on test scores, Margo said. "No structure is 100 percent infallible," he said. "You just have to do the best you can with the right folks, and hopefully you've got the right folks and the right people making the right decisions." Capo suggested that the EPISD focus its concentration elsewhere before they consider changing their current pay system. "They need to work on getting their house in order before they go work on something else that has the ability to increase gaming of the system," Capo said alluding to the district's attempt to cheat the federal accountability system, which resulted in the 3å-year federal prison sentence of former Superintendent Lorenzo García. "They need to focus on community-based reform and getting support from the kids' families and proper training for their employees," Capo added. "And they should not focusing on these bonuses that are inconsistent. They do not increase the pool of teachers it (the district) will receive. Instead, it will decrease it. They need to focus on authentic performance models for these kids."
Author:Frances Montes Phone: 915-491-8378 Dated: July 25th 2013 Views: 2,759 About Frances: I am Frances Montes, born and raised in El Paso, Texas. I am Bilingual in Spanish and English, a gra...
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