Patrick Walsh, Secondary Principals’ association new zealand (SPANZ) President
It is a truism that all workers, including professionals, make varying contributions in their workplace based on knowledge, skill, aptitude, and enthusiasm. In most work environments, this varying contribution by employees is recognised through salary or other benefits.
The teaching profession ought not to be a ‘sacred cow’ when it comes to performance pay. All those closely associated with teachers, including trustees, principals, parents, students, and indeed, teachers themselves, know that the performance of teachers varies from barely competent to inspirational. Likewise, there are huge gaps in the contribution teachers make to the co-curricular life of a school.
The current Collective Employment Agreements, however, require that boards of trustees pay teachers identical salaries irrespective of their contribution. Apart from promoting high-performing teachers into management positions, the best principals can do is give them a chocolate fish and a pat on the back. Not surprisingly, many become disenchanted with teaching and take their enthusiasm, innovation, and strong work ethic somewhere else. It is both archaic and sells students short to maintain a tightly structured pay system that rewards length of service as the key measure of performance.
The art of teaching is complex and difficult to measure, but it is a fallacy to suggest it cannot be done. Our current appraisal system, analysis of achievement data and feedback from students will allow, after some strengthening, schools to identify teachers who significantly add value to students’ learning and go the extra mile.
Any performance pay system will, however, have to be robust, objective, measureable, and open to all. The central issue is not measuring the academic achievement of students as the only indicator of a teacher’s performance, but rather what value the teacher adds to the students’ learning regardless of where they sit on the academic spectrum.
International and national research clearly indicates that it is the quality of the teacher in front of students that has the single biggest impact on learning outcomes. Much can be achieved through professional development, reasonable class sizes, and high-quality ICT, but ultimately the ability to reward our high-performing teachers is both necessary and desirable. It will incentivise best practice in the classroom and provide all teachers with something to aim for.
It is disappointing that teacher unions have rejected the concept from the outset, taking an ideological position rather than suspending judgement and examining objectively what emerges.
The reality is, we already have a high-performing teaching workforce in New Zealand. This is confirmed by our PISA results and the demand for New Zealand teachers overseas. Performance pay will provide a window of opportunity for these teachers to further lift productivity and be rewarded for it. Performance pay ought not to be feared but embraced by teachers.
Ian Leckie, National President, NZEI Te Riu Roa
Imagine if police officers were paid according to the level of crime solved in their communities, or if doctors were assessed and paid according to how many of their patients were cured, or were even penalised if they lost a few.
Would that be a fair assessment of their performance? Absolutely not. Performance pay is based on commodity sales and is not a measure of professional expertise.
Yet somehow the Government thinks that it makes sense to pay teachers differing amounts depending on the academic performance of their students, and what’s more, they plan to use the crude and dodgy National Standards as a measuring stick.
It is nonsensical and unfair to measure teacher performance based on student results. But what’s even more worrying, is that this approach, along with increased class sizes and the ranking of schools based on National Standards, will have a serious, detrimental effect on New Zealand’s high-quality education system.
So let’s look at the facts.
Recently the OECD released a report on performance pay for teachers, Does performance-based pay improve teaching? (PISA in Focus, 2012/05), and found that there is no clear link between the use of performance-based pay schemes and student achievement. It’s also clear that measures designed to assess students are not valid or reliable ways of measuring teacher performance.
Even assuming that money would be a successful motivator of improved performance for most teachers, how exactly would you measure teacher performance accurately?
The first problem is the wide variability in students’ natural ability. New Zealand schools have wide variability within schools by OECD standards. This is because we have an equitable system. In other countries where students are streamed or directed into private schooling at an early age, there is even more variability between schools.
The second problem is that research shows that ‘out of school’ factors are a stronger predictor of achievement than having even the best teachers. Student achievement and a teacher’s effectiveness can be undermined by so many different factors that children bring with them to the school gate. Factors such as their level of early childhood education, their health status, their home life, and the level of parental learning support they receive.
For example, how would you fairly assess the performance of a teacher with a bright, motivated group of students against another teacher who has a class with several disruptive students? One teacher may in fact be putting in more effort and accomplishing more educationally, but the other would be receiving more money based on student outcomes.
Thirdly, annual performance ratings linked to student National Standards results, as the Minister of Education has suggested, would be harmful for both quality teaching and children’s learning. Children don’t necessarily learn in a neat linear progression through the years. A student’s achievement in one year cannot be pinned solely on the performance of that year’s teacher. Cohorts can vary in ability from year to year, so even for a teacher teaching the same level every year, student results vary significantly.
Then there is the problem of margins of error in student data, exacerbated in the case of National Standards by the inconsistent and unreliable way they have been constructed and implemented.
So the number of variables makes judging teacher performance on annual student achievement a complex, costly task and an inaccurate science.
Australian academic and educational statistician, Professor Margaret Wu, who has just visited New Zealand, says we would need many years of student achievement data – more than 10 years – to be accurate in measuring individual teacher effectiveness.
She quotes data out of the United States on error rates in measuring teacher and school performance based on student test score gains (National Centre on Education and the Economy report, 2010, USA). It found that over one year of analysing student achievement, one in three teachers were mis-identified as very effective or ineffective. That is little better than one in two, which is the same as flipping a coin. To judge a teacher’s pay, career, and future on such dodgy data is completely unacceptable.
Performance pay systems can also result in teachers competing with each other, distorting learning by ‘teaching to the test’, and putting test results ahead of a child’s well-being and overall learning potential. Performance pay is too often the code for driving down the salary bills rather than improving teaching.
Teachers do, however, want a pay system that keeps our best teachers in the classroom and that recognises their skills, knowledge, and expertise in a fair and professional way.
A recent pilot scheme that assessed a group of Q1 and Q2 teachers in Hawke’s Bay could provide a basis for teacher appraisal. The pilot was designed to identify and reward long-serving teachers who could otherwise not reach the top of the salary scale because they did not hold a degree.
Unlike National Standards, the process was designed to be an objective attestation of the knowledge, skills, and attributes of effective teachers drawn on research about effective teaching as well as being closely related to teachers’ practice.
Key principles included a high level of trust and collaboration between teachers and principals, as well as fairness, transparency, and consistency. During the evaluation phase, teachers had the opportunity to receive regular feedback and, importantly, the process led to collegial, not competitive, teaching communities.
The pilot study was a success. It was found to be robust and reliable, professionally driven, and clearly linked to the curriculum and teacher role.
Compare that to a cautionary tale out of New York. The Education Department there recently released a ranking list of thousands of New York teachers based on student test scores, which the New York Post then publicised. Pascale Mauclair was at the bottom of that list and was subsequently vilified as the city’s worst teacher.
The reality is that Pascale Mauclair is actually a very experienced and much-admired English-as-a-second-language teacher working with new immigrant students at one of the city’s strongest primary schools. The school principal praises her as an excellent teacher.
If we are to explore appraisal systems and career pathways that will support and improve teacher quality, the bottom line is that quality learning for students must not be compromised for the sake of flawed policy.