The pay-for-performance plans submitted to the Payson school board are lackluster, but they will suffice for this year, board members concluded before unanimously approving them.
The district must submit plans to the state in December. Board members noted the pressing deadline and agreed to endorse them, but also decided to hold a work-study session to clarify expectations for next year’s goals.
“How can we expect high performance from our students when we don’t expect high performance from those in charge of them?” asked board member Richard Meyer.
“Were they not voted on by the teachers?” wondered member Rory Huff.
“That’s the answer I got from (Superintendent)Casey (O’Brien),” Meyer replied, speculating that teachers set goals that guaranteed them the money.
“I’ve had some teachers tell me, ‘Performance pay is a joke,’” said member Matt Van Camp. “Challenge yourself to set the bar higher.”
Teachers work with administration at each school to set goals for academic achievement, professional development and parent satisfaction.
Teachers earn state money if their school meets the goals in so-called “performance pay.”
The amount at stake fluctuates. This year, teachers can receive up to $1,600 for meeting the goals, although the incentive has reached $2,700.
The money comes from Proposition 301, a statewide initiative that provides money for both base salaries and performance pay for teachers.
“I’m going to vote for this, but next year the bar has to be higher or I will not vote for it,” said Huff.
Board member Barbara Underwood agreed. “It needs to be high, but it needs to be achievable.”
Frontier Elementary School Principal Paula Patterson later defended the plans, saying “it is a stretch for teachers.” The elementary schools raised their goals.
Payson Center For Success Principal Kathe Ketchem said her school raises its goals every year. Meyer initially singled out the Center For Success, calling it, “totally unacceptable for an illiterate student to come out of the Center for Success.”
This year’s PCS goals require 85 percent of sophomores and juniors need to meet AIMS reading standards or increase their personal scores by 4 percent. Last year, 82 percent of sophomores and juniors needed to meet requirements or increase personal scores by 6 percent.
Ketchem noted the increase and said she, along with teachers, examine the data to determine realistic goals. “We have to really work to meet these goals,” she said, adding that the average PCS student has had academic troubles.
The percentage of money linked to each goal varies by school. For instance, at the high school, half of the money is tied to meeting academic goals, 40 percent to professional development and 10 percent to parent satisfaction. Either all teachers at a school receive the money, or none receive it.
However, teachers at some schools can receive some of the money if students almost reach the goals.
For example, Rim Country Middle School is aiming for 70 percent of regular education students to meet or exceed standards on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards reading test, a goal that the school surpassed on last year’s test scores.
If 67 to 69 percent of students meet or exceed required AIMS reading scores, teachers win 95 percent of the money. This continues until just 50 to 59 percent of students meet or exceed standards for reading. At that point, teachers receive 80 percent of the money.
The middle school’s performance pay plan allows for the most flexibility. Plans for some of the other schools also offer incrementally less money for falling short of goals, but not to such a low percentage.
Underwood said she would like to see a higher percentage of the money tied to student achievement, rather than the other categories of parent satisfaction and professional development.
The middle school links 30 percent of the pay to academic goals; and the elementary schools, 25 percent.
“It seems like a lot,” said Underwood. The district is transitioning to a graduated scale of parent satisfaction. Last year’s survey used solely “yes” or “no” answers on numerous questions.
Meyer took issue with satisfaction goals, noting that schools set goals 3.5 or less on a 5-point scale, which equates to a “C” letter grade.
O’Brien said schools were tentatively setting goals, considering the new format. “I think there was a sense of risk,” he said.
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.
O’Brien said the middle school last year fell short of its goal for a 2-percent gain in standardized test reading scores across three grade levels.
Students already met this year’s goal of 70 percent of regular education students at least meeting AIMS reading standards on last spring’s AIMS test, with 74 percent of sixth- and seventh-graders at least meeting standards, and 79 percent in grade eight.
At the high school, this year’s goal stayed essentially the same as last year’s in principle: increase the number of this year’s sophomores who at least meet AIMS reading scores compared to when the same students were eighth-graders. In eighth grade, 69 percent of this year’s sophomores at least met reading standards.
However, this year, high school teachers are also required to keep grades up to date in an online database.
Elementary schools require 78 percent of regular education students in grades three through five to meet or exceed AIMS math standards, and 75 percent in reading, among other things. The goal marked an increase from last year’s 77 percent achievement in math