Earlier this month, Florida teachers challenged a law that based their pay on students’ test scores, an issue that has become prevalent throughout the country.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker upheld the 2011 Florida merit pay law, even though he recognized its unfairness to teachers. Despite seven teachers and their unions arguing against merit pay’s basis on scores from the state’s standardized tests, Walker found no legal basis to overturn it.
Ideally, merit pay is meant to encourage teachers to ensure student success, but this is not the equivalent of performing well on tests. Given the goal of merit pay, lawmakers apparently do not believe teachers previously strove for students to learn.
Not only does merit pay disregard students who have no desire to try their best or those who genuinely struggle to grasp concepts, but it also fails to address the ineffectiveness of standardized tests.
For instance, though the College Board claims the SAT “(measures) the skills required for success in the 21st century,” anyone trying to enter college knows standardized tests such as the SAT are less about all of the work done in high school and more about knowing how fast a train can get to a station.
Teachers have a very important role in raising children and young adults and they shouldn’t be reduced to producing numbers and serving as testing coaches. A few hours a year spent taking a test should not sum up a student’s education, and certainly not a teacher’s income.
In Florida, the merit pay system is funded by a $700 million Race to the Top federal grant. However, there are more useful strategies for improving education than waving money over teachers’ heads to meet goals that may be out of their control.
An alternative could be hiring more teachers so students have the chance for more one-on-one time with instructors, something large classrooms lack, or creating programs outside the classroom to prepare students for standardized tests rather than force teachers to prepare students for a test they did not write.
However, perhaps most ignored in the equation are parents.
Lawmakers sometimes forget that while some encourage their children to receive high grades, others may be apathetic. Yet, teachers are evaluated on children succeeding in school even though they’re not the only ones responsible for setting students on the path of success. But the reality is that the law goes beyond their power.
Still, according to an NPR article, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has shown support in recent years for the idea that testing students before and after a course determines teacher success.
While merit pay may work theoretically, it truly comes down to whether a student wants or has the ability to perform well — something that is often out of the teacher’s control.
The Florida Education Association, one of the teachers’ unions, is considering an appeal to the recent court decision. If one is made, hopefully it will make clear that merit pay wrongly values a day or two of testing whereas a teacher’s job requires a year of nurturing a student’s knowledge.
Adam Mathieu is a junior majoring in studio art.