Teachers do not get paid enough for their willingness to educate today’s youth, and in turn, shape the future. Educators use their platform of authority and passion to educate students while teaching to the best of their abilities and adapting their techniques to be in the best interests of their students. A concept known as “merit pay, is defined as a raise in pay based on a set of criteria set by the employer,” and is often brought up in discussions regarding teachers pay based on test scores (Dol.) This controversial topic has its advantages and disadvantages but ultimately, the debate about its effectiveness will never be over because of the lack of guidelines for one intended outcome. The modern significance of standardized testing is to track a student’s progress in particular courses, not to measure overall intelligence. This idea creates confusion and causes teachers and the wider communities to ask themselves a variety of questions, such as: are standardized tests scores a true measure of student achievement? Do high-test scores reflect the teacher’s ability to teach or the student’s ability to prepare for a test? These questions must be asked when someone is trying to answer the ultimate question should teachers’ pay be based on students’ standardized test scores?
Educators should choose their profession because of a passion for learning and teaching. An eager teacher presents information in a way that is accessible to students and they make themselves approachable if there is a misunderstanding or if a student needs further clarification. It is the teacher’s ambition that encourages them to adapt their techniques to be in the best interest of the student and urges them to instruct with passion and purpose. Passion is something that cannot be taught but can be enhanced and it should occur naturally. A good teacher could be described as someone who easily possesses eagerness and tackles teaching obstacles with fervor. Passionate teachers are often good listeners and problem solvers, but they also have efficient and effective discipline skills and high expectations for themselves and their students. There are certain standards that are suggested by a number of high-ranking professional organizations, like the National Education Association, that teachers should be held to, but teachers should also hold themselves to their own standards to have a successful class and successful students. A ‘successful’ student is as difficult to define as a ‘good’ teacher but there are qualities that each possess that make it easier to interpret a definition. These definitions are all subjective and will vary from person to person and descriptions that are put into place will always be open to interpretation and debate.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, French psychologist Alfred Binet was studying general science when he became interested in human intelligence. He made major contributions in the field of measuring human intelligence and is accredited for creating the first type of standardized test to strictly to test human intellect (WGBH.) Many people describe his early test as similar to taking an IQ test, which is simply a test to evaluate intelligence, to test your IQ score, which is a score obtained from a series of standardized tests (Alcocer.) More recently, standardized tests have been implemented into most schools’ curricula so that the government can supposedly guarantee that every state and every student within the state would be tested in the same or a similar way. These tests are used to track progress and not measure intelligence, like many people may assume because of their original purpose. The scores from the tests are also used to compare students to others from around the country and determine what improvements need to be made to the test or to the principles inside the classroom. In addition to tracking individual student achievement, scores are examined and the lower performing school districts are provided with aid to improve their scores the following years (Knefle.) Schools that continuously underperform on standardized tests are closely monitored and are required to make changes to guarantee improvement. One of the most basic requirements is that schools have to create a two-year improvement plan and demonstrate how they will change enhance their education system and standards of the students and teachers (Wolf.) The use of standardized tests and the type of test varies from school to school and state to state, with the emphasis on the type of testing being the ability to measure a range of students and schools with one type of evaluation. In addition to varying across state borders, there are even larger differences when comparing private and public schools because standardized testing is predetermined for public schools while private schools can choose their own methods of testing. Because these two types of school are not held to the same testing standards, it is nearly impossible to create a strict but fair, all-inclusive set of guidelines that a teacher and student would have to meet and follow for the scores to be high or ‘good’ enough to increase the teacher’s pay.
It is arguable that teachers should not be paid based on students test scores because the education system is working with the elements already in place: such as increased use of technology and improved methods of training methods for teachers. Many people feel as though it is unnecessary to change a system that’s working especially when the proposed system is debatable. Merit pay is a highly controversial topic that has been proposed for decades as a solution to Americans’ consistently low tests scores. An observational study conducted at Vanderbilt University stated, “The highly debated practice is having a positive effect on student outcomes” (Brasher.) In Vanderbilt’s research, they focused on 44 studies and found that more often than not it proved to be effective especially when rewarding teams of teachers as opposed to individuals. There were certain criteria that had to be met to have financial benefits. Because there were an inflexible set of guidelines, it was easier for teachers to know exactly what standards they need their students to meet in order to be rewarded. Matthew Springer, the assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt, reported that the United States has taken part in the opportunity to reward teachers for their students test scores and has awarded over $2 billion across thirty states to various educators for various achievements (Brasher.) From this research, it can be assumed that there are positive outcomes if there is a stringent plan for what procedures had to be met and with this knowledge, this practice could be applied on a larger scale.
Standardized tests are used to measure and test what a student understands about “core” subjects like math English and science. Standardized tests rarely reflect true learning and only test a fraction of knowledge accumulated throughout a school year. For example, the ACT and SAT, which are required by many colleges for acceptance, test a small range of math and English skills that are usually learned in one or two years of schooling. A good teacher teaches the fundamentals of course but takes the extra step to also expand on details to make it more interesting or possibly to make students remember the information better. A students test scores only reflect a fraction of what a teacher does and basing an educator’s salary off of student performance is evaluating a small piece of a teacher’s overall ability and effort put into a course.
Looking at other countries, such as Finland, one could see that there are alternatives to reforming our education system besides enticing teachers with more government money. In Finland, their way of evaluating the educational system is not based on testing but on a balanced curriculum, which includes hands-on activities and other methods of learning through adaptation. Likewise, the standards the Finnish teachers are held to are higher and the process to become an educator is more rigorous in recent years. America has had a strong focus solely on the testing of math and science since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2002 (Klein.) The focus of this act “is to close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education” (ESEA.) When Finland’s government noticed they had “average” scores on a global level, they boosted overall teacher pay, created smaller classes and made every teacher have a master’s degree in education. In Finland today, teaching is one of the most competitive and sought after professions in the country (Abrams.) The improvements they made to their education system over 40 years ago have stuck and have overall enhanced their country. It is obvious that it is easier for Finland to make these changes than the United States because of the significant differences in their size, but there are other alternatives to improve students test scores than monetary incentives for teachers.
Like Finland, America strives to have higher test scores in order to have one of the highest global averages based on math and science scores on various tests. Promoting the idea of paying teachers more for higher test scores does seem reasonable in the sense of wanting to be the best, but when the goal of school and education is just to make the highest score possible, the idea of authentic learning if not promoted. Authentic learning “is a style of learning that encourages students to create a tangible, useful product to be shared with their world” (Revington.) If a teacher is changing their teaching style only to achieve the best score, they are doing a disservice to themselves, the students, and the future. The practice of ‘teaching to the test,’ which some teachers may do if they were tempted by the idea of more money, is promoting a false idea that students are more intelligent or more capable because of their higher test scores. As previously mentioned, standardized tests are not a true reflection of learning. America can learn from many other countries about other alternatives to increase effectiveness in teachers and performance from students while also advocating for higher test scores.
A teacher teaches because he or she loves it. It takes a special kind of person to have to enough patience and a nurturing attitude to teach students. A teacher that enjoys their job loves sharing knowledge and is always open to inspiring and helping others. Being a teacher is rewarding and should be without the incentive of monetary bonuses. Although more money is enticing and teachers already have a relatively low annual salary and are not getting paid enough for all that they do, money should not be the main incentive to want to improve education. Teaching is collaboration with students, parents, and other teachers to achieve individual goals. Teachers are one of the first people in student’s lives to promote a love for learning and encouraging students to realize their own potential. The reward of teaching is getting to positively impact lives and constantly inspire others. A teacher is a person that assures a student that their true intelligence is not reflected from a number on a paper or a score on a test and that’s why there should never be an encouragement for a teacher to forget that.