Greg Wyman

Greg Wyman

If everyone gets “merit pay,” does it really mean you’re doing a good job?

Related question: Are teacher evaluations afflicted by grade inflation?

Those questions lurked in the fine print of the Payson Unified School District’s merit pay system for teachers — which produced a pay boost for all but one of the 120 or so teachers in the district.

In Payson this year, 93 percent of the teachers will get the full $3,700 bonus for scoring at least 80 percent in meeting all three of their goals. Another 5 percent will get two-thirds of the bonus by meeting two of the goals with another 2 percent having met at least one goal. Only one teacher did not achieve the 80 percent threshold for any of the goals.

Voters approved a merit pay plan for teachers statewide, which gives each teacher this year the chance to earn a $3,770 bonus, providing they mostly meet three goals related to student achievement.

The voter proposition left it up to each district to come up with a merit pay plan, approved by the bulk of the teachers. The merit pay plan in Payson won the support of the overwhelming majority of the teachers — almost all of whom this year qualified for the bonus.

Several board members asked delicate questions before voting unanimously to approve $480,000 worth of bonuses.

“If everyone’s meeting their goals — are the goals rigorous enough?” asked board member Jolyn Schinstock.

Student Achievement Director Brenda Case responded, “When we had Shane Keith on the board, he was asking that question and he comes from a business background, which is very different from an education viewpoint. Our goal is to get every kid across the line. These teachers are setting three goals and working on them all year long and each one of their goals has to be approved by their administrator. So if I have to reach these goals, I’ve got to push my kids. I do think they are lofty enough. We’ve got to work on those things and all our principals know — they do reject goals when they review them.”

Newly re-appointed board member Shelia DeSchaaf asked some questions about whether all the teachers agreed with the system.

“Did we have any no vote?” she asked.

Case acknowledged that some teachers always object to the system. Often, teachers who teach in areas like special education, drama, music, sports or other hard-to-quantify subjects. Some of those teachers say they’re being evaluated based on other disciplines, where teachers can rely on test scores to measure what students have learned.

“The components were voted on (by the faculty) and included smart goals in reading, writing and culture — which is Capture Kids’ Hearts based. We’re very proud of that,” said Case.

But some teachers objected that the components of the evaluation didn’t really measure what students learned in things like arts and physical education.

Sure enough, some of the teachers in the arts who have supervised award-winning programs in statewide competitions nonetheless had trouble meeting all three of their goals — generally based on test score measurements of learning. The current system also stresses gains in math and reading and writing in virtually every subject area.

Case said setting and tracking progress on those goals has improved teaching in the district.

She and the principals all work with teachers to first set, then meet, the goals. “It’s revisited constantly throughout the school year. They do have an element of control over how hard they work towards achieving those goals.”

Still, only a few teachers didn’t get at least two-thirds of the bonus, which for most amounted to a 5-10 percent pay boost. Teachers weren’t eligible for the bonus if they were hired after Jan. 15.

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

Teachers set their own goals which only need the approval of their supervisor with no independent validation. It does lead to the question as to the efficacy of the "system".

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