Performance pay for teachers is officially back on track in Utah.
Education officials have chosen five schools to divvy up a state allocation of $300,000 a year for two years to create performance pay pilot programs for elementary school teachers and classroom-related staff. Typically, teachers are paid based on experience and education. The schools that were chosen for the program, however, will pay teachers extra based on quality of instruction, students' academic progress and parent, student or community satisfaction.
The schools will receive the money thanks to a bill lawmakers approved this past legislative session. It was one of the only new education programs to gain approval in a session where lawmakers cut school funding by a net 5.2 percent.
It survived despite opposition from the Utah Education Association (UEA), which supports some forms of differentiated pay, but was disappointed to see a new program gain funding in a year when schools lost money, said Kim Campbell, UEA president. The bill also passed despite the axing of a $20 million statewide performance pay program for which school districts had already spent months preparing.
But that program's disappearance wasn't enough to turn all Utah schools away from performance pay. In all, 19 schools applied to be part of the new performance pay program.
The five schools will get money next school year to work with their faculties to develop plans and ways to measure success. They'll start rewarding teachers with pay during the program's second year. The amount of pay will depend on each school's plan. According to the law, the programs must base 40 percent of the pay on student progress, which will likely be measured by test results; 40 percent on instructional quality; and 20 percent on parent, student or community satisfaction.
Bill sponsor Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, has called the program "a strong first step in difficult times."
In fact, some of the schools that will participate in the program are hoping to build upon what they already did in anticipation of the $20 million program that was cut.
Sandra Shepard, principal at Wasatch Peak Academy, a charter school that will participate in the program, said her school has already started paying teachers for performance. The school had been planning, under the old program, to base that pay on teacher evaluations and results from the state language arts test. She said Wasatch Peak might use the new performance pay money to enhance that program or start an additional one.
"I think it's a great time to look at what we're doing and make it better," Shepard said. "I believe teachers all teaching in classrooms next to each other, getting the same pay at the same rate, may not be improving education."
Nancy Sorensen, principal at Manila Elementary School, said she also hopes to incorporate some of what her district had planned for the original program into the new one. The district's plan involved teachers collaborating, setting and meeting specific goals and being evaluated.
Teresa Robinson, principal at Ashman Elementary School, said she decided to apply for the program as a way to reward her teachers. But she doesn't see the money as motivating them to do more; she said they're already "giving every ounce they have."
"It's just a way to celebrate successes," Robinson said. She said, unlike other schools, student progress measurements will be based upon results of adaptive computer tests, not typical state tests. Students take those tests, which adapt to their ability levels as they take them, three times a year, and teachers receive results quickly.
Dawnanna Topham, vice principal and literacy coach at Ashman, said some of the teachers might be wary of the program because it ties so much of the extra pay to student progress as measured by test results. But Topham hopes teachers will ultimately see the program as a reward.
"I think what would really turn teachers off or make them not accept performance pay is if it's based solely on test scores," Topham said. "As long as [teachers] know it's only a portion of it, I think they will be OK."
State education officials have chosen five schools to create programs that will pay teachers more based on performance as part of a pilot program. They include:
Midway Elementary School in Midway
Manila Elementary School in Pleasant Grove
Ashman Elementary School in Richfield
Canyon Rim Academy, a charter school in Salt Lake City
Wasatch Peak Academy, a charter school in North Salt Lake