Teacher Work, Teacher Pay

According to AP, Houston teachers will now receive bonuses of up to $1000 per year based on their students’ test score gains. Apparently Houston is now the largest US district with this kind of merit pay scheme.

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7 Responses to Teacher Work, Teacher Pay

  1. Sacha Blumen says:

    A great thing about this is that researchers might be able to see whether this kind of scheme works or has any effect!

    Give it a go and see what happens.

  2. David says:

    One effect is to encourage teachers to focus on test scores perhaps at the expense of other indicators of education. And, in some cases, to cheat the test scores: see, for example, this research by the US National Bureau of Economic Research (one of the authors is Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame): http://www.nber.org/digest/jul03/w9413.html

    The research “use[s] Iowa Test scores from 3rd through 7th grade students in the Chicago public schools to develop and test a statistical technique for identifying likely cases of teachers or administrators who cheat by systematically altering student test forms. Their results suggest that such cheating occurred in 3-5 percent of the elementary classrooms in their sample, and that relatively small changes in incentives affect the amount of cheating.” And that doesn’t catch subtler forms of cheating.

    The message: carefully consider “the tradeoffs between the real benefits of high-stakes testing and the real costs associated with behavioral distortions aimed at artificially gaming the standard”.

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    David, it’s an important point, but we have good evidence from Israel (which Sara Mead and I discussed in our paper on the topic) that this kind of incentive really does raise test scores. The magnitudes of the effects were too large to have been caused by cheating.

    In any case, the possibility of cheating would be an argument against any form of testing. The point of Jacob & Levitt’s paper was to show that catching cheating teachers actually wasn’t that difficult.

  4. David says:

    True. I guess what concerns me more is the more subtle effects that measuring performance based on test scores has – in that it focuses attention on tests rather than education more broadly. And you can’t really get data on those sort of effects.

    That said, I take your point that you get these problems any time you try to measure performance in any context. All I’d say is that linking pay to test scores isn’t without possible downsides, these just need to considered alongside the more obvious benefits.

  5. Andrew Leigh says:

    Yes, I completely agree with you on that.

  6. Bruce says:

    I can’t see anything good coming from tying anything else to contrived assesment, other than perhaps administrative convenience and teacher bashing if you are into that (which I’m not obviously.)

    So many of the people making these policies have no comprehension of education research and just how unreliable the said results are. These bonuses will encourage teachers to teach according to administrative contrivance, rather than best practice.

  7. Sacha Blumen says:

    Bruce wrote: “These bonuses will encourage teachers to teach according to administrative contrivance, rather than best practice.”

    Whenever you have any form of assesment, teaching (at school or at the tertiary level) will inevitably be influenced to greater or lesser degrees. The problem is managing this tension.

    Additionally, you want to ensure, to as great an extent as possible, that your tests actually have some correspondence with what it is that you are wanting to test. This is a very difficult thing to do for creatures that are as complex as people are.

    Let us assume for the sake of argument that these bonuses do encourage teachers to teach “according to administrative contrivance”. But if, as a side result, students also improve their spelling/reading/mathematical/other area abilities, it seems to me that there is some benefit in the bonuses.

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