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August 04, 2009
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October 02, 2009
When Emmy returned from a Midwest REL conference on educator compensation in October, she brought with her a Center on Education Reform report on "alternative compensation terminology." Not the most scintillating title, but the paper had some persuasive takeaways. Educators and policy makers have far too many expressions denoting alternative compensation (merit, pay, alternative compensation, differentiated pay, pay for performance, etc), and terminology should be streamlined. "Merit pay" especially has negative connotations leftover from its use in the 1980s and 90s and therefore should be discontinued (the term is outdated and brings to mind the system of paying teachers based on potentially biased principal evaluations).
Okay. I can see the need to evolve our vocabulary. Every since reading this report, I've made a conscious effort to be more precise when referencing alternative compensation.
But my conscientiousness can only go so far. When it comes to discussing the impact teachers make on student performance, I will not refer to "context-adjusted achievement test effects" in lieu of "value-added." Sorry, Center for American Progress. Their newly released report, "Adding Value to Discussions about Value-Added," argues that:
"...the conventional language used to discuss productivity today- especially the term "value-added"-is well-suited to that sector of the economy. In elementary and secondary education, however, the use of the term value-added has proved problematic. Although widely embraced by researchers and policymakers to denote estimates of teachers' productivity, typically referred to as effectiveness, the term value-added ???sends chills down the spine' of most teachers union officials."
"The work of teaching is complex, but test-based accountability has focused attention on one dimension of practice: A teacher's ability to produce gains in student achievement....when used publicly to describe a teacher's strength on one dimension of practice, [value-added] devalues the other dimensions by implication."
Um, seriously? The report criticizes the term value-added because inherently it does not include terminology that attempts to "control statistically for characteristics of students or schools" (other than the teacher) that affect student achievement. Also, "value-added" is an "alienating and deceptive" term to teachers.
It then goes on to suggest different terminology (using language from the medical profession): "context-adjusted achievement test effects." One virtue of this phrase extolled by the report is that it makes a nice acronym: CAAT.
I'm starting to see a pattern. Merit pay. Performance pay. Value-added. What is so bothersome to teachers (and unions) about these terms is not the words themselves but that they measure merit, performance, and value according to something they don't like: student test scores. If the job you sign up for is to move students forward academically, how is it alienating/deceptive/inaccurate/whatever to measure your job performance based on how successfully you fulfill that fundamental role?
-Jamie Davies O'Leary