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Hartland-Lakeside moves ahead with pay-for-performance plan for teachers

District instituted teacher evaluation system

Dec. 23, 2011

The pay-for-performance model that the Hartland-Lakeside School District plans to roll out for its staff next year is drawing the attention of other districts in the state.

District administrators have already presented the pay model at a conference in Wausau and to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards in Madison. Superintendent Glenn Schilling said his inbox is full of requests from school districts seeking information on the model he and his teachers are currently refining.

The School District may be at the cutting edge of what the future in teacher and staff pay may look like as school boards look to reward staff performance more than seniority or education level.

Measuring a teacher's performance, however, can be tricky. Is it based on test scores? Parent reviews? Principal evaluations? These variables can be subjective, and test scores, while concrete, do not always provide a perfect reflection of a teacher's performance either.

Is it fair to judge a teacher's overall performance based on a student's score on a single two-hour test? Some students have private tutors to help them along, helping to inflate test scores too.

A school's products are its students, subject to every human variable imaginable, so it becomes tough to quantify how a teacher is truly performing, but the Hartland-Lakeside School District hopes to do just that with its pay-for-performance model.

Pay for performance

As Schilling explained in a recent interview, teachers will fall into one of seven performance tier levels, ranging from "Quality I" to "Master III" and "Exemplary."

Quality I represents a teacher with little experience at the bottom of the pay scale, making between $35,000 and $37,000 a year. Among other criteria, this tier level requires teachers to demonstrate student engagement, collaboration with colleagues and communication with parents regarding student achievement.

Corresponding with subsequent salary bumps, Qualities II and III move beyond those basic criteria, requiring teachers to demonstrate student motivation, positive and productive classroom climates, participation on district teams and committees, and tailored instruction based on analysis of student performance.

After reaching Quality III, teachers move into three Master tiers; according to Schilling, teachers should reach this level within three years.

"If you come in as a new teacher and you don't reach Quality III by three years, then you're terminated," he said. After initially reaching that level, teachers must remain at Master I or higher.

To reach that Master level, district teachers must take the next step and mentor other staff members, provide leadership for district improvement on teams and committees, apply extensive use of resources like technology, and meet various other benchmarks. A teacher at the Master I level will make between $45,000 and $55,000.

Moving into the Master II and III levels, teachers must demonstrate that their students practice high-level inquiry learning, meaning their students must learn to ask difficult questions and stimulate discussion. According to the criteria, teachers at this level promote the district to the greater community, have developed individual learning plans for their students based on analysis of past performance, and have professionally developed themselves to the point that they can provide support and expertise to their colleagues, helping to benefit the entire district.

The Exemplary level, reserved for the district's elite teachers, represents the district's recognized leaders with high levels of expertise and even National Board certification. Salaries at this level top out at $75,000.

Teachers will be subject to regular evaluations that teaching peers and administrators will use as recommendations for placement at the various tiers. Staff members will have to document and demonstrate how they are meeting the specific benchmarks that allow for their movement from tier to tier.

Schilling said current teachers' salaries were frozen as of June 30, and their current salary levels will be used to place them at the corresponding tier in the new model.

Under the previous system, teachers moved up the pay scale primarily through seniority and by achieving their master's degrees.

Said Schilling, "Well, there's no correlation that getting your master's improves your teaching or improves your quality as an educator. There's an assumption there, but there's no evidence that it does."

The district administrator said that in the past, teachers could get their master's degrees in fields that had little bearing on their area of instruction, but they would automatically receive a salary bump. That system will no longer exist in Hartland-Lakeside schools once administrators and 18 district teachers put the finishing touches on the new model, set to be unveiled next fall.

Once the district team that is developing the plan finalizes it, it will go to the School Board for a vote.

Schilling said the model is drawn from the private sector, and while it gives administrators more control over the promotion process, it does not necessarily mean any significant savings for the district.

Under the old system, it took two master's degrees with 12 years of seniority to reach the top of the pay scale. Now, a teacher will have to demonstrate a set of skills and a base of knowledge, but there is no time requirement preventing teachers from reaching the highest criteria, Schilling said.

The superintendent hopes the pay-for-performance model will foster collaboration among staff members, not competition like some merit pay models do. Under some proposed models, teachers compete for bonus money from a finite pool of funds, meaning helping or collaborating with a fellow teacher potentially keeps another from earning the bonus. The Hartland-Lakeside system rewards collaboration and cooperation in its criteria, Schilling explained.

He added that he expects it will take time to perfect the model.

"It's going to take time, because all of a sudden we get five or seven people next year who say, 'I want to move up.' And I anticipate that there's going to be some nervousness and people saying, 'well wait a minute I thought I was here, and now you're telling me I'm not,' he said. "I think explaining that criteria that teachers develop and what those things mean (will be important)."

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