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What's Wrong with Using Objective Measures to Determine Merit Pay Hikes?

May 31, 2019 3 minute Read by William McKenzie
Independent, objective tests like Texas' STAAR exams should play some role in determining how much teachers receive through a merit pay program

Now that their 2019 session has ended, Texas legislators deserve credit for increasing the state’s share of spending for K-12 campuses. They also earn applause for giving school districts money to reduce the property tax rates they use to raise local contributions to schools. 

This one-two punch should help increase the state’s portion of education spending, which is only right. The state should assume the lion’s share of spending since schools are a creation of the state. 

But in the rush to expand state funds for items like teacher salaries, lawmakers decided against using results from state achievement exams in any merit pay plans districts might offer. True, legislators approved some funds for plans that reward teachers for their classroom performance, not just for elements like their seniority. But they explicitly said results from STAAR tests cannot be used in those plans to evaluate a teacher’s classroom performance. 

That is disconcerting since STAAR exams assess how well a student grasps what the state wants them to know in subjects like reading, math, and English. The hallmark of the tests is that they are created through an independent, rigorous process so they don’t show favoritism in any part of Texas. 

It would seem only natural that independent, objective tests should play some role in determining how much teachers receive through a merit pay program. The state, as well as taxpayers footing the bill for those raises, should at least have some idea of how much value a teacher adds to their students’ grasp of the state’s education standards. 

I am not saying STAAR results should be the only metric in evaluating a teacher’s performance. The Dallas school district’s Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI) uses results from the STAAR exam in assessing an educator’s effectiveness. But the TEI also uses data from student surveys and a principal’s classroom observations when determining pay increases based upon performance. 

Those other metrics make sense. But leaving objective data out of a merit pay plan doesn’t give a full understanding of what constitutes best practices.

 

 


Author

William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project. And he teaches as an adjunct journalism lecturer at SMU, where he teaches a course on media and politics.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News.


Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

Full Bio

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