Pay teachers based on test scores? Not yet

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In Chicago, the original plan for the Teacher Advancement Program called for phasing-in each individual teacher’s value-added student test scores as part of a formula to determine teacher bonuses. The scores would be combined with school-wide achievement data and evaluations of the quality of teachers’ instruction.

But that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, schools have had to use grade-level performance data because classroom-by-classroom data hasn’t proven reliable enough, says Sheri Frost Leo, who oversees the TAP program in the district’s Office of Human Capital.

The problem: Because of factors such as team teaching, the researchers who calculate value-added data haven’t been able to determine whether all students are being correctly linked to the right teacher.

“We don’t want teachers to worry that their performance awards are based on iffy data,” Frost Leo says. “There were some concerns raised… that [researchers] wouldn’t be able to be close to 100 percent confident that the data linking teachers to students was correct.”

The program’s second-to-last round of bonus payouts, for the 2009-10 school year, will be finalized this fall. It isn’t clear yet whether the data linking students to teachers will be accurate enough for CPS to phase-in the classroom-level bonuses, although the district hopes to be able to do so after the 2010-11 school year ends.

CPS did not have an achievement formula for high schools during TAP’s first year. Rather than postponing the payouts, the program paid bonuses to high school teachers, staff members and administrators based on average student achievement across TAP elementary schools—a payment that had nothing to do with their school’s progress.

That was a temporary move while CPS worked out a solution, Frost Leo says. Starting with the second round of payouts, the district has used a school-wide high school achievement formula that takes into account EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT test results, as well as the school’s freshmen on-track, student attendance, and dropout rates.

Intern Rachel Schneider contributed to this report