NC could use student test scores as a way to pay teachers. Some educators say no way.

·4 min read
Julia Wall/

Some North Carolina teachers are concerned about a proposal to use student test scores as one way to determine how they could be paid in the future.

A state commission is working on a new licensure and compensation model that would pay teachers based on their ratings on student test scores or evaluations and whether they’re willing to take on additional duties.

The majority of teachers surveyed by the state about the plan said their colleagues are concerned about basing pay on test scores. Teachers also worry the new model would create a culture of competitiveness and make it more difficult to attract people in harder to staff schools.

“Their concerns were vast, and we left every meeting with people still having major questions,” Julie Pittman, special advisor to State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, said on Friday.

Pittman was briefing the subcommittee chairs of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) on meetings she’s held with teachers from across the state on the draft plan.

PEPSC hopes to finalize the “Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” model by the end of the summer. PEPSC will present it to the State Board of Education, which could request state lawmakers to adopt the proposal.

Truitt has said any changes are at least two to three years out.

Basing pay on effectiveness

Currently, North Carolina teachers start at a state base salary of $35,460. They get annual state raises for their first 15 years, then less frequent raises after that. The scale tops out at $52,680, but school districts often supplement the state’s pay.

Teachers can get state bonuses based on their students’ test scores, but it’s not built into their base salary.

But under the new model, there would be seven levels ranging from $30,000 for aspiring teachers who haven’t yet received a bachelor’s degree up to the highest level, where the minimum salary is $73,000.

Instead of advancing up with each year of experience, teachers would move up based on whether they’re considered to be effective. Teachers can meet these standards based on student growth on state tests or reviews by their principal, a higher-level teacher and student surveys.

The highest-paid positions would go to effective teachers who take on additional leadership roles in their schools.

Teachers express concerns

Pittman held meetings with groups of teachers, including several who won their district’s Teacher of the Year award, to get their feedback. Only 20% of the teachers agreed they should be paid solely on years of experience and 80% agreed the current licensure process/compensation scheduled needs reform.

But more than 75% of the teachers listed basing compensation on test scores as the top concern about the model raised by their fellow teachers. More than 50% also listed as concerns creating a culture of competitiveness and the impact the plan will have on attracting teachers to low-performing and under-resourced schools.

The next highest concern was around what impact the new model would have on teachers who get extra pay for having certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or for having a master’s degree. When state lawmakers eliminated extra pay for master’s degrees, it grandfathered in teachers who had their advanced degree by 2013.

More than 80% of the teachers surveyed agreed that the state should continue to provide the 12% pay boost for those who have national board certification. More than 23% of the state’s teachers have the certification.

Nearly 80% of teachers surveyed agreed it was important to continue grandfathering the extra pay for master’s degrees.

PEPSC has said no current teacher’s pay will decrease when the new model begins. But it hasn’t said how things such as national board certification and master’s pay will be factored.

“Please clarify any hold harmless proposal, national board certification and master’s pay,” Pittman said as she summarized the feedback from the meetings. “Please address veteran teachers’ concerns about where they fall in the licensure/pay structure.”

Will evaluations be objective?

Teachers had many additional questions about how the new model will work, including:

How does the model ensure evaluations and surveys are objective and provide actionable feedback to teachers?

How will licensure look for specialty teachers (exceptional children, English language, arts, physical education, etc)?

How does the model build, train and support a culture of collaboration?

Is this a sustainable funding model?

Why doesn’t the model increase teacher pay across the board without requiring additional roles and responsibilities?

“There has been no resolution to the many concerns raised by numerous educators to the draft teacher licensure proposal,” Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, tweeted Friday. “So why are we moving forward?”