Putting Education Reform To The Test

Second Study Says Merit Pay Fails to Motivate, Improve Scores

States may be wasting time and money attempting to pay teachers based on student performance, undermining a new Florida law requiring merit pay in schools statewide.

Performance-based bonuses neither improve student test scores, nor are the most effective way to motivate educators concluded a RAND Corporation study of a New York City merit pay program.

New York City schools decided to end the three-year program Sunday, which has paid $56 million in bonuses to teachers at more than 200 schools. Florida lawmakers have required school districts to create teacher evaluation and merit pay systems by 2014, and merit pay is favored by federal education officials.

But the RAND study says merit pay failed because teachers did not buy in for a number of reasons:

–Performance relied too heavily on test scores. Florida’s law requires standardized test scores to comprise 50 percent of the teacher’s evaluation, while the rest is based on principal, peer or other evaluations agreed upon by the district and its teachers.

–The bonuses were not lucrative enough to motivate teachers.

–Improving by other measures, such as the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements of the Federal No Child Left Behind law, motivated teachers more.

The RAND study also noted that some teachers did not understand the program or their school’s goals, that many teachers overestimated their school’s performance and that the committees designing the merit pay system tended to spread the awards among many educators, rather than giving larger awards to fewer recipients.

A study of Nashville schools by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, also conducted with RAND, reached a similar conclusion in September.


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