New standards for teacher bonuses recently approved by the Payson Unified School District board increased most dramatically at the elementary level, but decreased at the middle school level.
At the high school, sophomores must improve their eighth-grade reading standardized test scores before teachers can get bonuses. Last year, the bonuses depended on improving writing scores. In addition, the school must elicit a satisfied rating from 82 percent of parents instead of 80 percent.
At all schools, the new matrix excludes bonuses for teachers who are on improvement plans.
“The bar has been raised a little bit,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien.
The bonus system, called performance pay, sets schoolwide standards for academic and professional development goals and parent satisfaction. If an entire school meets the standards, all teachers in the school receive the bonus, which last year averaged $2,700 per teacher in Payson.
School board members expressed distaste for rewarding “slacker” teachers — ones on improvement plans — which resulted in their expulsion from the bonus plan.
O’Brien said the performance goals are statistically designed so a teacher on an improvement plan does not destroy a school’s chances of meeting standards.
Funding for performance pay comes from state sales tax revenue, and O’Brien said the amount of money available this year is still unknown. Sales tax revenue, however, has declined this year statewide.
Methodology for performance pay varies by district, but Payson sets goals for middle school, high school and elementary schools respectively. The district believes the team mentality accentuates accountability, O’Brien said.
Another bonus pay plan called Career Ladder offers a more individualized approach.
School board member Mike Horton said the balance between the two bonus systems is “a very complex matrix,” and one that will continue to evolve.
At the elementary level, a new writing portion of the academic achievement standards requires 70 percent of students in grades three through five to meet or exceed test standards. Last year, there was no writing requirement.
For math, 77 percent of students in the same grades must meet or exceed test standards, up from 75 percent.
At Rim Country Middle School, where O’Brien said students fell short of last year’s 5-percent improvement on reading test scores across three grade levels, this year’s standard dropped to 2 percent.
“I think maybe the 5 percent was a little bit overambitious,” Horton said. The district devised the standards, he said. “It’s an evolutionary process.”
O’Brien said a legislative task force examined performance pay plans last year, and the district thought it best to beef theirs up, lest the bonus money disappear.
If a school doesn’t meet the standards in a particular year, the money for teachers is set aside. If the school meets standards the next year, then teachers receive the prior year’s money as well.
“You want to show steady growth,” O’Brien said, “but the intent of this legislation wasn’t to be punitive.”