KENNETT, MO (KAIT) – Teachers and the principal of the Kennett Middle School reacted to news a Missouri senator is considering a bill allowing school districts to pay teachers based on student academic performance. Sen. Matt Bartle said tenure, which a teacher can obtain after five years in Missouri, is keeping bad teachers in the classroom. Principal Ward Billings told Region 8 News the intention is noble, but the theory is flawed.
"In theory it sounds great. We will attach, if you will, a nexus, a connection between student performance on a standardized state test or academic performance in another arena and teacher salary," said Billings. "I think that theory is seriously flawed because that theory is based upon, that theory is based upon the concept of all variables that play into the equation of student academic performance being constant."
Billings said there are a number of variables that impact a student's test scores. For example, a student may grow up in a troubled home environment and not have proper motivation for education.
"They're going to enter that arena with different intellectual aptitudes. We also know that children develop, not only physically but intellectually, at different rates," said Billings. "Does that child come from a nurturing, supportive, loving environment in which the importance of education is fostered and developed in that home?"
Billings said standardized test scores are essential in evaluating the effectiveness of school districts, teachers, administrators and students; however, he said it shouldn't be the sole attribute up for judgment regarding teacher salaries.
"I do think that student performance on classroom assessments, state mandated tests, the ACT at the high school level, things of that nature, can be valuable criteria for measuring the performance of students, the performance of teachers, administrators, as well as the district. But I think we have to be very very careful to directly tie in a cause and effect relationship between a teacher's salary and student performance," said Billings. "It should be one criteria and it should not be the exclusive criteria and I think that's the danger that educators see. That all of a sudden, we're going to look up and find that teacher salaries are tied into academic performance on, let's say, one standardized test given once a year."
Bartle told the Senate Education Committee Wednesday a performance based pay system would be the most important education reform the state could make.
During the interview with Billings, he pulled out a copy of Newsweek with an article titled "The Boy Crisis in America." The article talked about the significant impact a mentor can make on a young man or woman.
"The most enjoyable thing for me is the intrinsic reward that I receive in my interactions with students, as well as with teachers and patrons within the community," said Billings. "Teachers, coaches, administrators and others involved in the school setting are in a wonderful position to hopefully play that role."
Billings has been in the education system for 27 years, seven of which he has spent in school administration. He coached swim teams and taught social studies through his career. He said good teachers are motivated to see kids succeed.
"It could become an inhibiting factor for some people wanting to get into education. People who are intelligent, highly motivated, have a love for children, want to play that mentor role as you indicated a while ago, but all of the sudden, they feel like, uh oh, my salary may be tied into variables of which I have no control over," said Billings.
"One of my fears is that if they went by this type of system, people who may be directing their way out of high school into college into education programs would think, it's not worth the stress," said Tina Brown. "I'm not under a student based, performance based salary right now and it's stressful to be a teacher just in our day of living."
Brown has taught eighth grade students in Kennett for 11 years. She said her largest classroom is made of 27 students, each of which is different.
"I teach the same way to all of them and I still have subgroups that do not score as high as the others," said Brown, mother of two.
"Sometimes they score high on a test, the other one might not score high on a test. Did that mean they have the same life experiences? Did they come from the same mom? Yes. Children are different. They are not made in a mold," said Brown.
"It wouldn't be fair to me to have a lower functioning class and my pay be based on whether or not their scores were high when this teacher might have higher functioning students," said Brown. "The whole idea is that you're going to have better teachers in those lower functioning schools. They're not going to come flying here."
Brown said she wrote a letter to Representative Jo Ann Emerson last year, describing her frustration with standardized testing for students with learning disabilities. Brown said those students are given certain tools to help them along the academic process until the test begins.
"Suddenly, we get to the MAP test and those children who needed help with their reading on the test and monitored and adjusted all year long, suddenly they can't have help. How frustrating to a child like that! To have learning disabilities of some sort and to all of a sudden have the rug pulled out from underneath them because they've had help all year long and you're telling me now, this is the most important test of the year, and all of a sudden, I can't have help," said Brown. "He was expected to perform on the same level as the child who may be valedictorian."
"We've got good teachers doing good jobs. We've got lots of circumstances that are out of our control," said Brown.
Billings said teachers would feel additional pressure to succeed, but the future of their pay would be uncertain if legislation passes.
"I could see where it could significantly impact staff morale within an existing school or school district or in a respective state," said Billings.
Billings said a performance based pay-scale would make it difficult for lower-scoring school districts to succeed and attract quality teachers.
"Exactly where you need those highly motivated, intelligent, loving, nurturing, mentoring teachers, but out of self preservation, they may feel the need to go to school districts where test scores are already higher," said Billings.
"It puts that question of doubt in the American public's mind, oh, my child's not scoring high so my child's teacher must not be doing a good job," said Brown.
"I think in any given profession you are going to have some individuals who maybe aren't performing at the level that you wish they were performing," said Billings. "On the other hand, I do feel like that we currently have in place procedures and policies to effectively evaluate personnel to address issues of underperforming teachers and try to work on enhancing their overall performance and at some point in time, making the recommendation as to whether they continue to be employed or not be employed."