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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ruminations on Teacher Pay and High Stakes Testing

There is a tendency for American teachers to be treated like factory workers. They receive little recognition, a meager salary, and their training after hire consists of professional development that rarely fosters much growth. Since a mediocre teacher earns the same salary as a high-quality teacher, there is little monetary incentive to strive to become an excellent educator. In addition, No Child Left Behind holds teachers entirely responsible for their students’ performance on state achievement tests, regardless of the many variables that influence students’ performance on these tests. For example, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prepare a sixth grade student reading at a second grade level to perform well on a state achievement test. It is no wonder that standardized testing has caused schools and teachers to panic.

Generally, students’ performances on tests are considered to be directly attributable to the instruction they receive from their regular teachers. Many teachers lose their jobs every year because of poor standardized test scores. Our current educational assessment system refuses to take into account all extraneous variables that lead to educational gaps among our students. For instance, some teachers may end up having mostly high achieving, well-behaved students in their classrooms, while other teachers may consistently have classrooms with low achieving students, students with special needs, and students who exhibit behavior problems. In the case of the latter, it seems unfair to hold teachers accountable for the shortcomings of their students’ abilities. Even the best teachers are not miracle workers.

The sad reality of education is that some children do not have the ability to achieve standards within the time periods set by of NCLB. Teachers should be held accountable for students’ test performance; but the focus of that accountability should be a teacher’s ability to improve student’s test scores based on the student’s level of achievement when he/she enters the teacher’s classroom. For example, a student who is well below the expected level of proficiency at the beginning of the school year may not reach the expected proficiency level at the end of the school year, but they may show significant improvement. This is a better measure of a teacher’s effectiveness and their ability to impact student learning.  
In addition to concerns about job security, low compensation, and student performance on high stakes test, teachers must also worry about subpar principals who are overcompensated for the successes of teachers. Although administrators deserve to be fairly compensated for their work, their pay does not seem equitable compared to that of teachers. If administrators are to be compensated fairly for the job performed, then teachers, too, should be fairly compensated.

Tagline- Matthew Lynch is an Assistant professor of Education at Widener University. He can be contacted at

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