North Carolina merit pay plan would tie teacher compensation to student survey responses

As end of year standardized testing for school year 2021-22 wraps up, another type of assessment could be on the horizon for North Carolina’s public schools. 

This time instead of teachers assessing students it would be the students who are assessing the teachers.  

The results would be used to determine not only how much educators are paid but also whether they’re able to keep their teaching license in our state.

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) has been working on a new model for teacher licensure and compensation for more than a year.  The commission is proposing moving to a system of merit pay which would completely do away with compensating educators based on their years of service and instead determine their pay and career advancement based on their effectiveness.  

Teachers would choose from a menu of effectiveness measures including standardized test-based EVAAS scores, a portfolio-style review of student work, and something called the Practical Educator Evidence Review (PEER).

The PEER measure would include three components:  principal evaluation, observation by a colleague, and student surveys.

Our students spend more time in our classrooms than anyone and are well positioned to offer feedback on their learning experiences.  For years I have surveyed my own students at the end of the year, and the insight they provide always helps me to improve as an educator.  But using that information to determine teacher salaries and career paths is a proposal that deserves careful scrutiny.

With only two months of PEPSC subcommittee work remaining before the licensure/compensation proposal is finalized, I filed a public records request with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for examples of student survey questions that could be used in this manner.  

I was provided with a spreadsheet of dozens of questions that you can download or view in its entirety here (be sure to navigate the tabs at the bottom to see all the questions).

Some of the survey questions are reasonable enough, but others ask about factors that are clearly well beyond the teacher’s control.

Take this one, for example:

How pleasant or unpleasant is the physical space in this classroom?

 {very unpleasant, somewhat unpleasant, slightly unpleasant, /  neither pleasant nor unpleasant, slightly pleasant, etc.

Now, I’ve had a classroom that required a large trash can to catch the steady stream of water that came through the ceiling every time it rained.  

I’ve taught in trailers that should have been thrown off a cliff, spaces ruled by mold and cockroaches.  Those “classrooms” need a phrase much stronger than “very unpleasant” to accurately capture how inappropriate they were for human occupation. 

Decrepit buildings, insect infestations and crowded spaces are common in schools across our state.  These poor conditions aren’t the result of bad teaching, they’re the product of bad decision making by elected officials who believe tax cuts are more important than public education.  

How about this one?

How excited are you about going to this class? 

{Not at all excited Slightly excited Somewhat excited Quite excited Extremely excited}

My school district has adopted the EL English Language Arts curriculum for many grade levels including my own.  This curriculum has some advantages, but it’s heavily scripted and repetitive to a fault.  My students have spent the entire fourth quarter studying about plastic pollution in the ocean.  I’ve done my best to supplement and enrich, but after two months they’re understandably at the point where they just don’t want to hear it anymore.  It seems likely that my student responses to this survey question would capture their feelings about the design of this mandatory curriculum and not my personal approach to teaching and learning.

Here are some other questions from DPI’s document that seem potentially problematic:

Overall, how important is [SUBJECT] to you?

When you feel like giving up on a difficult task, how likely is it that this teacher will make you keep trying?

When you are not in class, how often do you talk about ideas from class?

When faced with a very challenging task, how hard do you work to complete it? 

If you came back to visit class three years from now, how excited would this teacher be to see you?

Teachers should not be held responsible for factors that are beyond their control.  Building conditions, poorly designed but mandatory curriculum, student interest in the content and challenging student behaviors all have a major impact on how students feel about school and how well they learn, but they are aspects of school that teachers often have little or no power to influence.  

My guess is that DPI’s reaction to this concern would be to say “Well, those aren’t the actual questions we’re going to use.  They’re just examples,” “We’ll figure it out during the implementation phase” or “It’s just a draft.”

Those responses would be irresponsible at best and negligent at worst.  There are only weeks left before the “draft” is final. What we can’t do is pass a bare bones policy and then trust DPI to do a good job of putting the flesh on those bones later. Not when the health of our whole system of public education is at stake.

Now is the time for the Department of Public Instruction and PEPSC subcommittees to provide specific details, listen carefully to feedback from stakeholders, and use that feedback to significantly improve the proposal.

Enacting a plan that pays educators based on unfair measures will only make it harder for us to recruit and retain the excellent teachers each of our children deserves.

If you’d like to share feedback on the proposal to compensate teachers based on student survey results, you can contact co chairs of the relevant PEPSC subcommittees at the email addresses listed below:

Licensure subcommittee:  

Dr. Ann Bullock:

Dr. Westley Wood:

Advancement and Development subcommittee:

Maureen Stover:

Dr. Michael Maher:

3 thoughts on “North Carolina merit pay plan would tie teacher compensation to student survey responses

  1. Dead on. There’s also a lack of consideration of how teaching styles differ by subject. I’m thinking specifically here about questions like “How often do you get to choose what you work on for class?”

    Then there’s the outside influence on how much they value the class/subject. Can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a parent conference, trying to get to the root of an issue for a student struggling in my ELA class, only to be told by a parent that they do not consider my class important, because “they only need to learn math at this point.” As you said, another factor outside of our control.

  2. Crazy… just looking at the questions I know my son who pick the worst rating for most because he didn’t want to go to school and do work.. his teachers were great but that’s not what they are asking. The number of questions and categories.. no way they would answer all of them real thought and consideration. Theses questions do not translate into how well or how hard a teacher teaches. For younger K-3 kids you would need completely different questions and about 5 to keep there attention to answer with thought. There is no way a teachers pay should be based on how much a student felt the material covered in class was relevant to them when there are state standards that teachers must teach. The room which a teacher is given to teach in .. could be small , no A/C, loud since it’s shares a wall with the gym etc. is going to have an impact on teacher pay?? When does the teacher scrutiny stop? When will we just expect teachers to do the best job possible with all the obstacles they face and thank them for a job well done? Teachers are leaving the field and the way to make it better is to create another tool that tells them we need others to judge you before we can pay you? The ones judging you are ones that by law have to be in your class and no matter what you do still may not want to be there, but that’s who will do your judging. How does this seem right?

  3. Does this make sense? Children are still developing emotionally, mentally and physically. Tying pay to a survey response? Try it in our state senate first? Probably wouldn’t be such a novel idea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *