Education Funding Report Roundup

Study: Many Teachers in the Dark on Merit Pay

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 06, 2015 1 min read
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Basing teachers’ pay on merit may lead to a small boost to students’ reading achievement—if teachers understand how the pay structure works.

But in 13 districts using federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants to overhaul their teacher-compensation systems, many teachers didn’t understand how it works, what’s required, or whether they were eligible.

That’s according to the second report in an ongoing federally funded evaluation of the TIF program by Mathematica.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded some $1.8 billion to districts to develop new measures of teacher effectiveness; establish bonuses based on them; provide opportunities for teachers to take on new roles and responsibilities for additional pay; and design training to help teachers improve.

The researchers found that, while more teachers in the participating districts understood the evaluation system in the second year, 38 percent of eligible teachers did not know they qualified. And they consistently underestimated how much they could make through the bonuses.

The study also found that teacher bonuses got a bit smaller, and principal bonuses grew, in the first two years. By year two, nearly all the schools in the study were offering performance bonuses to teachers and principals; most were based on both student growth and classroom observations. While top-performing teachers were likely to be rated highly on both measures, nearly 9 in 10 teachers and 8 in 10 principals whose students showed very little growth were still rated above average in classroom observations.

Students’ reading achievement improved by a few percentile points, or about three weeks of progress in a 36-week term. Math showed no significant gain.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Study: Many Teachers in the Dark on Merit Pay


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