Waco ISD (copy)

Waco Independent School District teachers and administrators get into the spirit during the annual convocation ceremony to open the school year in August.

The Waco Independent School District is weighing a different bonus plan in which some teachers will receive extra money based on each individual student’s standardized test score.

For the past five years, select Waco ISD teachers have been rewarded annually through a payment system based on student performance on the state’s standardized test, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. District officials are hopeful the new incentive plan will better appeal to current and prospective teachers while also aligning with the state’s new A-F accountability system.

The proposal is receiving mixed reviews from some Waco ISD educators.

If approved by the school board Thursday, campuses and teachers who teach STAAR-tested subjects will have six different opportunities to earn extra cash:

  1. Campus raised overall score — Every campus that receives a 70 or higher in campus growth on the state’s A-F rating system would qualify to receive a campus bonus. The bonus would be calculated by multiplying $100 to the campus’ numerical accountability score. Schools that score a 90 or above would receive an additional $5,000.

  2. Teachers’ raised scores — Teachers whose students earn an “Expected Progress” or “Accelerated Progress” growth rating on STAAR would receive $15 or $25 respectively per test. For STAAR subjects where growth is immeasurable, if 60 percent of a teachers’ students test at the “Approaches Grade Level,” then a teacher could earn $15 per test for each “Meets Grade Level” and $20 for each “Masters Grade Level” score.

  3. AP success — AP (Advanced Placement) teachers will receive $150 for each student who scores a 3, $200 for each student who scores a 4 and $250 for each student who scores a 5. Any teacher who exceeds 40 percent passing rate with at least 15 students will earn an additional $1,000 bonus.

  4. Campus distinctions — A school will receive $1,000 for every campus distinction awarded by the Texas Education Agency. This money can only be used for new technology to support the district’s blended learning initiative.

  5. Early literacy — The top 11 teachers in grades pre-K to second-grade districtwide will receive $500 to $1,000 depending on the reading growth of the students assigned to them.

  6. Attendance — Teachers who earn perfect attendance from the day of the incentive adoption until the end of the 2018-19 school year will earn a $200 bonus. Teachers with perfect attendance for the entire school year will be entered into a drawing for a $2,000 bonus to be awarded at the next convocation.

The bonus plan may help entice top talent to choose Waco ISD over other competitive districts that lack an incentive pay structure, Human Resources Director Elaine Botello said. The incentives may cut back on the district’s high teacher turnover rate because only returning teachers will be eligible to receive a bonus check. The plan was created with teacher feedback from previous incentive plans in mind, Botello said.

But Pam Fischer, president of the Waco chapter of the Texas State Teachers Association, said her concerns about previous incentive plans’ failure to include all teachers and staff fell on deaf ears.

Physical education teachers, art teachers and music teachers are largely excluded from earning extra cash because their subjects are not STAAR tested.

“Waco TSTA NEA is against this plan because it shortchanges the team effort we need to create learners at the campus level,” Fischer said. “This plan only recognizes a small portion of the team it takes on a campus.”

The possibility of a bonus check hasn’t proven a deterrent for teacher turnover, Fischer said.

“We should be using this money wiser,” Fischer said. “This is taxpayers’ money. I know teachers who were going to get big reward checks and they still left the district at the end of the year.”

The bonus plan is estimated to cost the district $480,000.

In her three years with Waco ISD, Samantha Cubbage, a seventh-grade pre-AP English and language arts teacher at Cesar Chavez Middle School, said the bonus has been a nice reminder of a job well done.

But Cubbage said she wished the district’s incentive plan included all employees and all aspects of the classroom.

“It doesn’t account for my relationships with students, doesn’t account for my classroom management, and doesn’t account for a meaningful project that my students completed,” Cubbage said. “It reduces me as a teacher to test scores. But at the same time, it is nice. We do a lot of extra work to get those test scores up.”

Some studies show that pay for performance incentive plans can lead to a number of negative side effects including cheating, low morale among teachers and a toxic work environment, according to the Boston-based nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

“It’s a profoundly bad idea,” said Robert Schaeffer, National Center for Fair and Open Testing spokesman. “It creates perverse incentives that undermine good teaching and learning. It doesn’t help improve educational quality or narrow achievement gaps among groups of students.”

But district officials stand by the incentive plan’s effectiveness. Botello said she hasn’t witnessed any negative side effects from the district’s use of incentive plans. And the district’s improved STAAR test scores appear to coincide with the rollout of recent incentive plans, Waco ISD secondary education director Scott McClanahan said.

If the new incentives entice teachers to push a bit harder to improve student growth scores on STAAR, schools and the district may see a boost in the state’s A-F rating next fall, McClanahan said. Waco ISD scored a C on the first round of A-F accountability ratings.

If approved, 2018-19 bonuses would be awarded in August of the 2019-20 school year to campuses and teachers still employed with the district.

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