Governor Rick Scott recently signed a bill bringing merit pay to Florida. An excited Governor Scott proudly claimed, “We are absolutely changing this country.” He has no idea how true his words are.
Under the new law, teacher evaluation (and pay) will be based very much on test scores. Pretend for a moment that you are a teacher who values educating the whole child. You respect academic achievement and appreciate that even flawed test scores provide some useful information. You also know that the true value of what you do can never be measured by a test score. You know that your students frequently need something that falls outside of the exemplary curriculum you offer – something that will never be measured by the most sophisticated test. The most valuable things typically transcend measurement.
One day a student needs something from you that won’t be covered on the test. But your pay is now tied to how well your students perform academically. You are a parent and have one child in college and another in high school. To be blunt, you need money. Merit pay is appreciated. Part of you, a part previously honored and respected but now legislated into irrelevance, knows that this is a moment when academics should take a back seat. You have been called to do something even more important. But then there are those college bills. What do you do?
As Governor Scott stated with enthusiasm, “We are absolutely changing this country.” He’s right. Driven by the very understandable need to pay those college bills, you are more likely to ignore the non-academic problem of your student and focus your energy on making sure that test scores continue to rise and you get your merit pay. Who can blame you? Certainly not Governor Scott unless, of course, he has a child in your class who requires something even more important than doing well on the next test in the seemingly endless parade of tests that characterizes “No Child Left Untested.” Then he might want you to exercise professional judgment, educate the whole child, and give his child what is needed (not just what has been legislated.)
There will continue to be lip-service paid to educating the whole child, but as long as we insist on evaluating teachers based exclusively (or even primarily) on test scores, we are failing to offer kids the well-rounded educational experience they need to help them be as successful as possible.
Final thought: for those of you who believe in the primacy of the test score, think of your spouse, your best friends, and your most respected colleagues. When was the last time you asked to see their transcript? Do you make the most important decisions in your life based primarily on test scores? If you do, then I’m sure merit pay makes perfect sense to you.
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