Merit pay for teachers: Would a test score tell us more than a teddy bear?

I read a lot of education-related essays submitted to the AJC. Few make me tear up. This one by local first grade teacher Linda Ramsey did.

Enjoy and share. Ramsey directed her column at Georgia policymakers but it’s worth everyone’s time.

By Linda Ramsey

I am a teacher. I am committed to my students. I have spent more than 30 years teaching elementary children. While I am proud of helping children to read and write, I am most proud of becoming an important person in their lives. Students who return to school to hug me, thank me, or to say hello warm my heart. I have had previous students thank me for being nice, being strict, being easy, being hard, being creative, and being curriculum intense. I have had students thank me for just “being there” when they were having a tough time. I have never, ever had a student or parent thank me for any standardized test. I have cried at the deaths and funerals of three of my students. I have been to the funerals, memorial services, or visitations of at least 10 of my students who lost a parent or sibling. A few months ago I helped a child to understand what would happen at his father’s funeral the next day because his mom asked me to meet with him and answer his questions.

I have taught children who were in foster care and those who had been recently adopted. I have taught children who had been in our country for only two days before being dropped off at school to learn to speak English and acclimate to American ways. I have been hugged so tight I could hardly breathe by these children and their parents. They thanked me for “being there” when their lives were being tested but they did not once thank me for any test I ever administered.

Early in my teaching career, I had a student named Mary. She came from a large family and, while her parents were rich with love and support for their children, they had few possessions and sporadic employment. Mary spent two years in first grade, and at her mother’s request, both years in my class.  She matured and blossomed into a confident little girl who was ready for the next grade. I was invested in Mary. I intervened to get her placed with caring, dedicated, and strong academic teachers. I made sure she had a friend in her class. I checked in on her for the next four years.

bearOn the last day of each school year we celebrated the accomplishments of our fifth graders with a 5th Grade Graduation Walk through the all the halls. I presented Mary with Mr. Bear as she walked past me. Mr. Bear was my stuffed bear from when I was a child and sat on a table in our classroom. Sometimes I would hold him as I read aloud to the children. Often they would hold him if they were sad or wanted to read aloud to a silly old stuffed bear.

Mary is now married with four children of her own and lives in Washington D.C.  She moves often because her husband is in the Army. Today she posted this picture on Facebook for me to see. It is a photo of her youngest son holding Mr. Bear.  She kept him for more than 20 years!  Her comment “I love that bear.  He means a lot to me” defines teaching for me.

Teaching is not just about test scores or standards. Teaching is about forming meaningful relationships and helping students develop confidence and security as learners. If we really want a community of life-long learners, we must change the directions of education. I am a teacher and I am saddened by the attack on teachers by the media, government officials, and those in the private sector.

This is a test. Are we going to pass the test and save public education for all students? Does anyone believe teachers are responsible for student poverty, malnutrition, parental involvement, regular school attendance, motivation, interest, self-control, attention, or natural ability? My effectiveness as a teacher is impacted directly or indirectly on these factors.

I ask that you commit to minimizing standardized tests, fairly compensate teachers for sharing their time and hearts with children, dictate that teacher prep periods be protected from administrators who want to use it for trainings and meetings, require systems to regularly purchase texts and materials, and eliminate the use of standardized tests to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Remember Mrs. Ramsey, Mary and Mr. Bear. #evaluatethat

 

 

Reader Comments 0

36 comments
Bitcoined
Bitcoined

The teachers' unions crank out an unending supply of these thinly disguised attacks on accountability and school choice.

And this column publishes nearly every one.

Peter_Smagorinsky
Peter_Smagorinsky

A lovely essay that reminds us why people become teachers, and why teachers are important people in kids' lives.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

A retired teacher sent me this comment on merit pay: 


Here is something that I don't think anyone in our government has really considered as it relates to merit pay. It is another set-up for cheating on standardized testing. It would also be a set-up for computer hacking since testing is going computer based. The new teacher evaluation is already based upon opinion/appearances and not fact. The performance pay will be the same. As was in APS.

I recently retired (October) and have been subbing in a local county. I have learned much more than I ever did as the stationary classroom teacher. The major thing I have learned is new teachers are not prepared to go into the classrooms in many areas. The seasoned teachers are being railroaded out (based upon administrative evaluations) to bring in new teachers at lower pay. The seasoned teachers are fed up with what they can and cannot do and the unrealistic expectations. There is much more paperwork and much less teaching.


The expectations of students are too great for the reality. And, last but certainly not least of all, those making the suggestions, regulations, expectations, etc. have never been in a classroom. Neither do they or are they willing to take the time to volunteer to observe the realities in education and educating. 

My last comments are some food for thoughts in our federal, state, and local government offices and officials. There is not one profession on the face of the earth that a teacher/instructor did not have a hand in preparing the professional. It would be most inviting for all citizens to vote for merit pay for all elected officials. 

FreeScreech
FreeScreech

Wake up society and community! When will you quit allowing the bureaucrats to comfort your inner self by believing that the problems can all be solved by blaming it all on teachers? The problem stems from parents that ARE NOT involved with their kids today!

Don’t have children if you are going to neglect them!!!


happyinga
happyinga

Once the state and local systems start holding parents accountable for having their students in school, we can begin to talk seriously about this issue. It is not uncommon to have students miss twenty-thirty days a year. No one wants to have that conversation. Instead, teachers are encouraged to figure out ways to get kids to come to class as a cop out to not wanting to really press parents. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@happyinga Yes, teachers are supposed to take their time to find out why kids are absent.  But then, when parents are finally taken to court, judges give them multiple chances, have them sign contracts, and don't enforce them.  Parents move, and the process starts all over. Or, the school year is over, and the process does not carry over to the next year.  The system is gamed.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Sounds like a wonderful teacher.  And elementary school seems like a great fit for her.  She should be celebrated, and paid well.


Meanwhile, in high school, getting kids prepared for life academically is important.  The best teachers aren't "touchy feely" types, but those who both encourage and push their students.  


But I get that Maureen wants to mix the two.  Much easier on the eduacracy not to have to answer to actual, objective measurements.  You know....like test scores, that show whether the student actually mastered the subject.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Wascatlady @dcdcdc right...because SAT's have proven to be completely irrelevant to a student's performance in college - said no sane person.  ever.


Test scores don't matter - the mantra of the "don't measure my results" eduacracy.  Only i the govt....crazy

Travelfish
Travelfish

@Wascatlady: Then don't open the test results envelope.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@dcdcdc @Wascatlady


right...because SAT's have proven to be completely irrelevant to a student's performance in college - said no sane person.  ever.


If that's the path you want to go down then you can also say that poverty and a parent's educational level do not affect the educational success of the child living in those circumstances...said no sane person ever.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@dcdcdc If only these tests we are talking about DID show ACCURATELY whether the student had an opportunity to master the subject!  


Mastery of the subject depends on more than instruction. It requires a student prepared to address the subject (rested, fed, interested, willing to try, being able to box out the stressors in their individual lives), a parent or adult willing to support the student, a school building that is comfortable and safe, a school system that supplies needed materials and equipment and supplies alternative placement for disruptive students, classmates that respect the mission of the school and are also similarly prepared, AND a teacher who knows the subject and instructs in differing ways to accommodate differing styles of learning.


Omitting any of those necessities,and evaluating a teacher on the mastery of a student is ridiculous!


THEN, there is the whole matter of test construction.  In Georgia, this has been severely lacking--not just in test items, but in the assumed child development expectations.  In addition, the setting of cut scores, subject to the whim of politics, is extremely problematic.


FINALLY, if all the above are met, when it comes right down to it, a student may not "feel like"giving a test the best s/he can, due to individual circumstances or life outside of class that particular day.  How does that show the worth of a teacher?

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@OriginalProf @dcdcdc @Wascatlady sadly thats a distortion, done by comparing students from different level schools and degree programs.


if you put a kid,who scored 950 on the SAT at Harvard, barring any "special help",  they will flunk out.  just how life goes.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Wascatlady @dcdcdc good try, but only true if you compare kids who scored closely to each other on the SAT.


As usual, when one actually digs into a "fact"  pushed by the eduacracy that doesnt pass the sniff test, it falls apart


there is a very good reason colleges still require those tests.  in spite of the,efforts of,the eduacracy to avoid any actual objective measure,of how effective their teaching is

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@dcdcdc @OriginalProf A book co-written by the former president of Princeton found the SAT and ACT have little predictive validity for whether or not a student graduates from college or when they leave. “Crossing the Finishing Line” says high school GPA is a much stronger predictor of college performance while the SAT and ACT are largely proxies for high school quality.

You can read more about it at the Harvard Review

http://hepg.org/her-home/issues/harvard-educational-review-volume-80-number-3/herbooknote/crossing-the-finish-line_357

@Wascatlady

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@dcdcdc @Wascatlady Straw man your favorite talking friend?


The SAT is useful, but the high school GPA predicts the majority of FYGPA, with SAT adding a little more to the prediction. (Except in the studies done by the College Board, home of the SAT, of course.)


Of the SAT subscores, the writing section, now discontinued, predicted the best of all the subscores.



Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@dcdcdc @Wascatlady See Maureen's reference, above.  Self-serving "research" aside, the SAT/ACT is most useful when COMBINED with HSGPA.  Individually, HSGPA is the strongest predictor.


SAT tells about skill level and high school quality, but little about what we know is also important--work habits/attitudes.  Family income is the strongest predictor of SAT scores.


Not every state has HOPE, with its inflation of grades, as we have seen here in Georgia.

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

Teachers' union activists are free to leave unopened, when it arrives, the envelope containing their own child's standardized test results.

But I'll bet none of them do.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Bitcoined I don't know how the test scores are sent in states with teachers' unions, but here in my part of Georgia they are sent home in report card envelopes carried by the student.

advocateforchange
advocateforchange

This is such a great letter.  I agree totally as a teacher for over 35 years.  I do think that tests are important in showing progress or regression of students.  However, the tests are only as accurate as the mood of a student on any one day.  I have seen so many students Christmas Tree tests over the years, just to be finished.  Formal tests scores are just one measure.

MamaNora
MamaNora

 Mrs. Ramsey is an amazing teacher and a wonderful woman. This is my daughter she is talking about, and my grandson in the picture. To this day, I am so thankful God placed her in my daughters path of life. This is an article about the love and devotion our teachers have for their students and the difference they make in their student's lives. Thank you, Mrs. Ramsey. I can never repay you.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MamaNora And you have to know that the gift you gave Mrs. Ramsey, by letting her know this, is the best thing you could ever do!  Better than money!


When my former students or their parents talk to me (I live in a fairly small community) they give me armloads of flowers. Not literally, but they say things that are like gifts that can be reopened and revisited on days when I have felt less appreciated.  


One of the biggest joys, a few days before my retirement, was listening while 5 of my former students who became teachers and colleagues played "I remember when..." recounting things I had done or said that made an impression on them when they were little."


Thank you for letting Mrs. Ramsey know how important she was.

TheTeddyBear
TheTeddyBear

As a bear of color, I particularly resent being used as a prop to proselytize against standardized testing and much needed school accountability.

So many of the state's failing public schools are in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@TheTeddyBear How many names are you allowed to post under since you had to give up your original name?

Travelfish
Travelfish

Getting in a cheap shot at standardized testing, even in a feel-good letter, is too typical of this newspaper column.

Where's any sympathy for parents stuck with failing schools?

Lisa from south Georgia
Lisa from south Georgia

@Travelfish Your school may be failing by standardized tests (which are racially and culturally biased at times), but they are probably exceeding in teaching children!! We are in the business to teach children to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, divide, live in society, follow the rules, and the list goes on and on. We are succeeding there and test scores should not be the primary measure by which we are graded. Go into your schools, walk the halls, visit a classroom, sit in on a faculty meeting, volunteer and you will find that schools are doing amazing things with with our kids.

Travelfish
Travelfish

If there weren't long-standing and well documented shortcomings in public education here and nationwide, merely talking up the status quo might suffice.

But our kids will need much more to compete in a changing world.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Travelfish


Up until the 2015 the NAEP scores, which are those accepted as reliable and valid, have shown increases across the board every year for every group tested. The decline/flat scores in 2015 are thought to be the because of the failings of the Race to the Top/NCLB policies which are stifling true and authentic learning in our schools. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Travelfish I would argue that generally public schools are doing a damned good job, considering all the inputs!

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady @Travelfish  tt varies widely between school districts. Gwinnett, yes. Decatur yes. DeKalb absolutely not. Atlanta was awful, but may get better. Clayton may be improving too. Fulton yes.