Teachers and school administrators in Cincinnati voted overwhelmingly last week to amend the district’s pay-for-performance system, citing rushed implementation and a lack of training and support for teachers involved in the high-stakes evaluation.
Adopted a year ago, the plan is believed to be the first in the nation since 1921 to move teachers off a single salary schedule. It has placed the 42,000-student Ohio district among the leaders in experimenting with new forms of teacher accountability.
Under the modified model, teachers will have more time to become acclimated to the new system before being held accountable, said Susan Taylor, the president of the 3,300-member Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. They will also be provided with extensive professional development in an attempt to help them better understand the evaluation process, the standards, and the stakes, she said.
“The overwhelming impact of the changes is to make the system fairer,” Ms. Taylor said. “It gives teachers time to learn and practice the needed skills before tying them to pay.”
‘An Overwhelming Process’
The hallmark of Cincinnati’s pay-for-performance plan is the creation of five career categories. Frequent, in-depth evaluations determine whether teachers advance in the career categories, stay in the same category, or slide back into a lower one. (“Cincinnati Teachers to Be Paid on Performance,” Sept. 27, 2000.)
The evaluation component of the plan was implemented last fall with some 2,400 teachers. An additional 700 veteran educators were “grandfathered” out of the system.
In the past, evaluations consisted of principals’ spending an hour with teachers annually, then rating them “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”
The union and the school board agreed to make changes in response to teachers’ comments and an assessment of the plan conducted last summer by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which helped put together the plan in Cincinnati and similar efforts elsewhere.
Surveys found many of the more than 2,100 teachers who had participated in the pay-for-performance plan were confused about the district’s expectations or the process itself, said Allan Odden, a co-director of the consortium.
“It is such an overwhelming process that it caused overwhelming numbers of people stress,” he said.
The researchers noted, however, that many teachers did not take advantage of training provided by the district.
Fewer teachers will be required, before the 2004-05 school year, to take part in assessments conducted by a team that will eventually be used to set salaries, Ms. Taylor said. Only those who have less than five years’ experience, are deemed by administrators to need intervention, aim to extend a contract, or want to assume a lead-teacher role are compelled to do so within the next three years.
While a majority of teachers will still have to undergo annual assessments, the district will now require teachers to provide evaluators with work that is aligned with one area of the teaching standards. Last year, they were required to meet 17 objectives.
Under the amended system, teachers will also have greater recourse should they receive evaluations they question.
The Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit Princeton, N.J.-based testing company, will join with the district and the union to draw up a professional-development plan to help teachers better understand the objectives, Ms. Taylor said.
Despite the glitches, Mr. Odden said, the system remains “one hundred times better than what they were doing.”