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Pay system to get overhaul

Matt Terrell
mterrell@vaildaily.com

EAGLE ” The school board approved a major overhaul Wednesday of the controversial performance-based pay system that, for years, has frustrated teachers and lowered morale in schools.

The Teacher Advancement Program, the education reform started in 2002, ties teacher pay to formal evaluations and how well their students score on standardized tests. The better students perform, the more money teachers get.

Many teachers say they like being rewarded for performing well, but in practice, TAP, as the program is known, has been unfair, inconsistent and hard to understand, according to a committee of educators and community members who studied the pay system and recommended changes to the school board.

The changes, which include basing pay raises on a larger batch of test scores, boosting salaries for veteran teachers and improving the evaluation system, will make TAP more fair and transparent, school leaders say.

Team spirit

The biggest difference will be how test scores are used to affect a teacher’s pay. Under the newly approved program, teachers will no longer be tied to the scores of only the smalls group of students they see in class ” they’ll be tied instead to the overall performance of their school and the district.

Their performance bonus, which would come in a lump sum at the end of a year, would be calculated using an “index” of test results, including the scores from their school’s NWEA and CSAP results, districtwide NWEA and CSAP results and ACT results. Their pay would be determined by how well thousands of students do in the district, as opposed to a couple dozen.

“No one test truly measures a student’s academic growth ” an index is more fair and accurate,” said Meredith Deem, a teacher at Edwards Elementary.

Many students switch teachers during the day, especially in high school, or they’ll spend much of their time working with a specialist, teacher’s aid, P.E. teachers and art teachers. Less than 50 percent of the staff are teaching subjects that can be tested, said Kate Turnipseed, a teacher at Brush Creek Elementary.

All these things makes it difficult to attribute the success or poor performance of any one student to any one teacher, and makes paying teachers based on those scores complicated and unreliable.

By paying teachers based on the overall performance of a school and the entire district, teachers will be motivated to both do their best and work as a team, Deem said.

Veteran teachers

Another major change is that a teacher’s performance-bonus would be based on a percentage of their contracted salary as opposed to a fixed amount.

Currently, teachers are eligible for up to $2,600 in performance based pay to be added onto their salary. Under the new system a teacher would be eligible for 8 percent of their contract salary for performance pay. Of that 8 percent, 4 percent will be based on standardized test scores, and four percent will be based on evaluations.

Doing this allows the school district to not only reward high performance but also veteran teachers. The longer you stay, the larger your base salary will be, and the more bonus pay you’re eligible for. This could be a helpful incentive to keep teachers in the district, which is a constant problem for the school district, Glass said.

Better evaluations

The district still wants to hold teachers accountable on an individual level and that’s why evaluations conducted by principals and master teachers will still be an important part of the pay system.

How those evaluations are used to pay teachers will change though. Currently, teachers are graded on a five point scale with 13 different cutoff points for different pay levels ” which means a teacher who scored a 3.91 could end up making more than a teacher who scored a 3.90.

Under the new program, the grading system would become qualitative, and teachers would be paid based on five performance categories ” excellent, high performing, professional, improvement needed and unacceptable.

Why make that change? Think of this ” is someone who scored a 3.91 really any better than someone who scored a 3.90? The evaluations weren’t meant to be that precise, but the district is in fact using them that way, which seems unfair, Glass said. Also, it’s better for morale when teachers are told they’re working at a “professional” level instead of a 2.5, committee members have said.

The district will continue to study even bigger questions: What is the best way to evaluate a teacher, and how do you really measure good teaching?

Available money

The new compensation system would give teachers a negotiated increase in salary every year depending on how much money is available.

This will allow for the school district to easily give teachers more money based on things like school reserves, the economy and available state funding. At a minimum, it would guarantee teachers some amount of compensation just for coming back the next year, Glass said.

This also is part of a teacher’s salary, which could be determined well before the beginning of the next school year. A common concern among staff is that many people don’t know how much they’ll be making until days before the new school year starts.

“This model is a lot more transparent, and we can calculate what our salary will be,” said Ruth Moroney, a media specialist at Brush Creek Elementary.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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