Editorial: Focus on goal of effective teacher in every classroom


Published Feb 17, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

More than 150 Bend-La Pine teachers have turned down bonuses because they reject the idea that student test scores should be used to determine how teachers are paid.

It’s a principled stand, and we admire that, even though we don’t share the conclusion on which it’s based.

The payments would have ranged from $95 to $390 before taxes, according to Bend Education Association President Mark Molner. Of the 300-320 teachers affected, Molner said, two-thirds cast votes and 77 percent of those voting said no in secret ballots.

The payments were offered to teachers in the district’s nine so-called Group 4 schools because they were not eligible for bonuses from the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), a federal program involving the district’s other 18 schools.

The union has not objected to the TIF payments — even though student test scores are involved — because they are federal dollars from a research study. But the Group 4 payments would have come from the district’s general fund and also be based in part on student test scores. That crosses a line, said Molner.

Molner told school board members Tuesday that Group 4 teachers appreciated the sincere effort being made on their behalf. But he said they asked themselves a telling question: Can we say we do not believe in a merit-pay/performance-based system with standardized tests and also say yes to this money? The answer was no.

Molner told us there’s no evidence that using test scores in determining teacher pay is effective. He said the teachers worry that if increasing scores becomes the main goal, subjects that are not tested — which now include the arts and social studies — will be neglected. Also, he said studies show many factors affect a student’s scores, with a teacher’s impact only about 20 percent. In addition, Molner said there’s good evidence that money is not what motivates teachers. Without a good answer, he said, merit pay could set a dangerous precedent and move investments in the wrong direction.

We agree there are challenges in making student test scores an effective part of teacher evaluations and pay, and we respect the principled stand of the Group 4 Bend-La Pine teachers. It’s certainly true that effective teaching goes far beyond test scores. Nonetheless, test scores are a critical way to judge what knowledge students have gained, and they should be at least one part of judging effective teaching.

It’s important to keep a focus, though, on the ultimate goal, which is to have highly effective teachers in every classroom. To get there, better teachers must be recognized and rewarded, and weaker ones removed from the classroom. Teachers in Bend-La Pine and across the nation who object to using student test scores need to help find a path that gets us there.