Principals united on matters of merit pay, testing and school grading system

On Wednesday, House Speaker Thom Tillis presided over the second day of “Education Week,” hearing from principals across North Carolina who came to share their concerns about proposals related to merit pay, student assessment, funding and school grading, among other topics.

Noting that Governor McCrory’s budget, expected at the end of March, is likely to include flat funding for education, Speaker Tillis expressed his desire for school systems to be more creative and flexible in the way they spend their money. Tillis was also looking to hear dissent from principals about various proposals in the pipeline, including merit pay and the A-F scoring system for schools.

Randy Horne, principal of Southport Elementary School in Brunswick County and the parent of school aged children, was the first to offer his concerns about how much instructional time is lost at the expense of excessive testing. In creating and administering state mandated reading assessments, teachers at his school are losing 9-12 weeks of instructional time per year. Horne worried that such a reduction in teaching time will inhibit students’ ability to become proficient in reading by age eight. Noting that teachers are best positioned to intuitively and clinically judge who their best readers are, Horne said that lawmakers should consider giving them greater flexibility in choosing how to assess students in order to cut down on testing time in the classroom.

End of grade tests have been notoriously unpopular among educators who complain that high-stakes testing narrows curricula. In preparation for these tests, teachers tend to avoid inquiry-based projects utilizing critical thinking and employ “skill-n-drill” techniques that prepare student only for the test.

Guilford County elementary school principal and North Carolina principal of the year Patrice Faison agreed that students are subject to too many assessments. The focus, Faison offered, should shift to teacher preparation, whereby teachers can benefit from a larger clinical component in which they learn more updated methodologies on how to teach subjects such as reading. The alternative to excessive testing of students is to do a better job of preparing our teachers to teach.

Beaufort County Middle School Principal Dale Cole questioned the efficacy and fairness of the largely unpopular A-F school grading system established last year by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s Excellence in Public Schools Act. Cole pointed out that teachers frequently do much more than manage students’ academic progress—in many instances, teachers are essentially raising their students, alluding to out-of-school factors students deal with such as transience, poverty, and domestic abuse. “Let’s find other ways to measure the success of schools besides the synopsis of test scores at the end,” Cole said. Student portfolios and growth of students over time, instead of a snapshot of proficiency, are alternatives he offered.

The A-F grading system measures schools’ success based on student test scores and graduation rates, among other “snapshot” measures. Student growth over time does not factor into a school’s grade.

Tillis’ response to Cole’s concerns indicated his belief that out of school factors should be the domain of other government agencies when appropriate. The speaker cited the need to eliminate “scope creep” when schools are dealing with too much beyond their capacity. It was unclear how to go about determining which government agencies should be dealing with the sort of out of school factors Cole pointed out, and how to find the funds to do so.

Teacher tenure was briefly touched on and most agreed that those who have already earned tenure should be grandfathered in.

The session ended on the subject of merit pay for teachers – and several principals raised their voices in opposition to a merit pay system. Brunswick County Teacher of the Year Laura Hunter, who attended education week on principals’ day thanks to a schedule conflict, explained her position on merit pay. At a recent seminar she attended for teachers of the year, all of those in attendance were universally contemplating leaving the profession thanks to low wages, few resources and long hours. “If we introduce a merit pay program without addressing the teacher pay problem first, we will not be able to retain good teachers. Merit pay has merit, but not right now.”

Speaker Tillis indicated he would ensure that principals would work in collaboration with superintendents on the working groups he commissioned yesterday at the superintendents’ meeting. Tomorrow we will hear from teachers on the last day of education week in the House.



  1. Doug

    February 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Not hard to believe that the educrat establishment wants to do away with any accountability. I see a lot of complaining, but no real suggestions, that portfolio thing will still require some kind of test at some point. There is no way to get rid of testing if you want to measure progress.

  2. Jack

    February 28, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    No Child Left Behind is the slippery slope to creating an under-achieving school system because the focus isn’t education.

    Since No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001 it’s been about testing students. Schools became over-burdened with federal regulations to prove students are advancing. The result is that the public education system focuses on teaching to the test. The student is now irrelevant and meeting the federal standards is what drives the day-to-day class room. Teachers are not allowed to educate rather they have been forced to become low level administrators, paper pushers, within a dysfunctional system.

    Lawmakers will offer lip service to teachers and others but that is all. For example, what Tillis said about the school systems being more creative and flexible in the way they spend their money. (Talk about your slippery slope.) My experience when it comes to managing and spending tax dollars, federal or state, there are rules and accountability on how and on what the dollars are to be spend. Any implementation of a policy to be “creative and flexible” would create a problem and he knows that.

    There are many examples of people being creative and flexible as Tillis suggest and they’re in jail.

  3. david esmay

    February 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Not hard to believe that republiclowns and teaidiots want to use testing results to attack teachers and cut funding to public education, instead of using the results to identify needs, which is what normal state educational systems do.

  4. Doug

    February 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    My wife is a teacher, my mother was a teacher, my grandfather and one of his sisters was a teacher one of my aunt and uncle were teachers. I come from a long line of educators I am all in support of education, just not the over hyped view of “cuts” to the system and the complete absence of open mindedness of how/whether to measure success. If these highly paid administrators have ideas that would work then they need to come forward and demonstrate what works. Otherwise we have to do what has always been done, and test to see that the knowledge society has said needs to be taught is making it to the students.

  5. david esmay

    February 28, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Doug, I agree. I took the Iowa Basic Skills Test from 5th through 8th grade in Iowa, but we didn’t study for the test, it was used as an instrument for teachers and the school to identify where individuals needed to improve.
    The problem I have with the system now is that to much time is spent focused on preparing for EOG testing. It’s like the body count system in Viet Nam. Schools and teachers are graded on how well their students do on these tests, not on how much they’re actually learning. The higher the scores, the more accolades they receive, the money they get, it bastardizes the whole system. The focus should be on providing the highest quality of education we can possibly give our kids. One thing that is disturbing is the pay difference between teachers and administrators. Like CEO salaries compared to the average worker in the private sector, the disparity is way too much.

  6. Nate

    March 1, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Coming from a teacher:
    The problem is not testing itself, teachers “test” all the time, the issue is large scale summative assessments that are supposed to test compounding knowledge. For instance, a child falls slightly behind in reading in 6th grade, by 7th grade he is below grade level and in 8th he is completely failing the End of Grade test. The 8th grade teacher cannot make up for two years of instruction and prepare the child for the 8th grade test. If that child was to go back and take the 6th grade test he probably would pass or exceed expectations, but he is now behind his peers and without funding for summer school and parents who refuse to allow their child to repeat a grade the child will continue to fall further and further behind. Most school systems already have an alternative to End of Grade testing. The alternative is District Common Formative Assessments that are administered once a quarter not once a year. The individual student’s progress is then tracked over the course of the year and the Growth is measured to determine proficiency. This is the system that should be used to determine both teacher effectiveness and student promotion. We also need to treat teachers like the professionals they are, if we don’t there is going to be a mass exodus of teachers (good and bad) over the next few years. Why stay and be abused and paid like a high school graduate when many of us are marketable and have masters degrees.

  7. Doug

    March 1, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Tahnk you Nate. Too bad that message is not making it up to the Feds so that we could get an alternative. Also, I agree with treating them as professionals. Unfortunately in the government schools you have an overloaded administrative structure that sucks all the pay to the top and is subsidized by lower pay to actual contact people.

    I guess the government schools concept can be related to the progressive argument on taxes…it is funny that something set up by the progressives mirrors so closely something they profess to despise so much. In the schools the administrators get richer while the working people ge the shaft.

  8. Robert Schorr

    March 9, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I am a teacher and a parent. No one is considering the total real cost of testing. We have some many standardized tests in the Alamance Burlington School System that I can no longer name them all. It is not just the EOG’s. There are five full time positions that are dedicated ONLY to testing at the county. I would hate to know how many there are at the state level. Then, each school has person, who has a different job title, but who is actually spending 60% or more of his or her time coordinating tests. Next, for all the “big ones” such as the ACCESS and EOG’s we need a proctor and a teacher. However, since many students get modifications due to disablities or are absent on tests days, often two full time staff members are required (one administrator and one proctor) to spend two or three hours testing one or students in addition to all the larger group tests. Next, there is the incentive that is built in for teachers. If you are teacher who cares about your classes test scores, you need to avoid schools or classes that have higher poverty rates (less family support follows) and those which have more discpline and EC issues. Next, as a teacher, you are not going to want to focus too much on the very low and very high students. The very low will not only never pass, they will show less growth (a child with Downs Sydrome for instance, isn’t not going to grow much), and at the very high end, it becomes hard to show growth also. If a student gets “4s” on everything, all the time, there isn’t a lot of room to show growth. In other words, teachers will focus heavily on the “borderline passing average student” because that is where the real numbers “gains” can be made. Schools as a whole also do this. Those students whose passing is possible, but not guarenteed, will have the best core teachers in the school doing test cram sessions for EOG’s and everyone else will be in random “enrichment” classes. The next fallacy of logic is that we need to “weed out teachers” with the testings. Every marginally competent administrator already knows which teachers are doing great, which need help, and which need to find a new profession. Testing for that purpose isn’t needed. SImply give administrators more power…BUT, keep in mind that at many schools, “replacing teachers” isn’t as easy at it appears. We have a recession and position cuts which makes it a bit easier to attract teachers…BUT, in the middle school that I teach at we only have five core teachers (three in the sixth, one in the 7th and one in the 8th) who are still working there since 2006. Most core positions have changed multiple times. Last year we had five different people (most subs) teaching one 8th grade science class. Also, keep in mind that attracting quality is a REAL issue. We have sociology majors teaching math, journalism major teaching social studies, etc. If we had a large pool of truly qualified (not just the silly “highly qualified” definition the state makes up), then it would be reasonable to do everything possible to clean house-but, any principal, especially in the grades that are the toughest such as 8th, and the subjects where there is the greatest demand, are going to think long and hard before showing someone who is mildy incompetent the door…Even worse than filling core positions is filling the extremely challenging EC positions. There is not a county that doesn’t ALWAYS have multiple openings for EC teachers to fill. In that skewed, supply vs demand situation, what would an EC teacher need to do to get fired and not get another job almost immediately?

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