Vol.#2: Measuring My 2¢ On Merit

In April, our school’s benchmark results were emailed to the entire staff. When analyzing the language arts department’s results, my students’ projected growth – the percentage projected to meet their targets – was abysmal. I mean it. I was dead last.

Six weeks later, the students took the ‘real’ test, and the resulting scores were completely different. I was at the top of the department, and my students more than surpassed “high growth” as measured by the state.

It was also noteworthy that while math teachers’ scores seemed to echo the Benchmark test results, my department seemed to have no correlation at all. While some have argued passionately that standardized tests cannot measure the effectiveness of a teacher or a school, these results even begged the question: Can reading be assessed by standardized testing at all?

I’m not clear if the Benchmark test was intended to be a predictor of the staff’s performance or test preparation for the students. To me, that’s not the same goal, but it seems to have been considered capable of both by many. Either way, my PLT colleagues  asked the same question I would have:

 “What did you do in those six weeks that made the difference?!”

And here’s the big secret: I honestly don’t know.

New York published teacher “rankings” with a 35-53% margin of error on data which is several years old and filled with errors. By some, this is being touted as a way to “reward good teachers and put bad teachers on notice”. In other words, it’s a way to shame and humiliate teachers into doing more.

I’ve considered this carefully: Did I “do more” because of that email sent out in April? I’d felt I went about teaching as best I know how, as always. Did I unknowingly communicate something differently? Or perhaps the low scores scared my students into a more serious focus? Was the first test unlike the first? Was it just wrong? A fluke? A combination of these factors? Something else entirely?

The problem is if I don’t know, I can’t avoid disastrous or replicate desired results. Yet, teachers are being judged with derision or praise as if they can. This is why teachers are opposed to ‘Merit Based Pay”…because it has no merit.

Even at their best, standardized tests measure a shamefully narrow and shallow pool of knowledge. What I hope to accomplish with my 135 diverse learners in 47 minutes per day over 180 school days each year, they cannot hope to capture in three painful hours and 62 bubbles.

Further, I would like to assure everyone in favor of MBP that no teacher is holding out on a really brilliant way to teach fractions or adverbs until published standardized test scores shame her (or bonuses bribe her) into using them. Multifaceted, valid assessments it will motivate us for our students’ sake; we don’t need to be degraded. Other educators have eloquently argued that while their intentions may not be malicious, we cannot look over the reality of unintended and insidious consequences to students and teachers alike.

When I saw this image last week, I really liked the proposed answer to someone who asks why teachers oppose merit based pay.  I hope “We Are Teachers” doesn’t mind that I’ve paraphrased it here:

It’s not that teachers are opposed to being fairly evaluated. As one educator brilliantly explaines, “Evaluate Me, Please“. She goes on, however, to lay “a few ground rules.” I encourage you to read it in its entirety, as it’s a powerful read, however here’s an excerpt:

“I want to know what works and what doesn’t. Like my students, I thrive on feedback. Just remember my worth shouldn’t be determined by some arbitrary value added model based on subpar standardized tests. It should come from what I do with the students I have each year, from my professional growth, and from formative, ongoing conversations.”

What are your experiences? What do you see as the value or drawbacks, and the alternatives to MBP?


5 thoughts on “Vol.#2: Measuring My 2¢ On Merit”

    1. That’s an excellent question. Overall, I’d say growth, not an arbitrary level deemed “mastery”, should be the goal for students. Also, teachers should be measured on what teachers do, not what students do. Because no two classrooms, teachers, or students are the same, I don’t see an easy, one-size-fits all evaluation. This means comparisons and rankings can’t be easily made, which seems to be the goal of those making the decisions right now.


      1. But a “one size fits all” mentality makes it easier for administration to administer. They can come in and check their squares and say, “I saw this, this and this.” I, too, believe the tests should be based on growth. Give a test in August and re-test the kids in May. No district wants that though, because a) it would cost A LOT of money b) the kids might actually show growth which would c) prove that teachers know what they are doing and d) we don’t really need the lastest greatest educational “tool” to “fix” those bad teachers.


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