AUSTIN – Texas teachers are giving a proposal that would link compensation to student performance a failing grade, despite claims that it would encourage school districts to pay higher salaries.

“Our main problem with this bill is that it would tie teacher evaluations and pay to student test scores, an unfair and inaccurate way to evaluate teachers,” said Clay Robison with the Texas State Teachers Association. “This bill would replace higher pay for the most experienced, better teachers with a dubious “merit’ pay plan based largely on test scores. Teachers already are underpaid, and this would make matters worse.”

The bill’s author, state Rep. Marsh Farney, R-Georgetown, said eliminating the existing minimum salary schedule would give districts flexibility in how they appraise their teachers and move away from using standardized test scores as the sole measure of teacher performance.

The average starting salary for a new teacher is $36,352, about $6,000 a year below the national average, Robison said.

House Bill 2543 would retain a $27,540 annual floor for all certified Texas teachers, slightly more than the current starting minimum of $27,320.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean a pay cut, but it could,” said Rob D’Amico, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers Texas affiliate. “Teachers rightly reacted. This is insulting.”

Huriya Jabbar, a University of Texas at Austin College of Education assistant professor who studies market-based reforms, said such proposals date back to 19th-century England.

“I find it fascinating that these policies keep coming up, in light of the lack of evidence,” that they get results, Jabbar said. “The argument here is that teachers are not working hard enough. The big question we need to ask is, what motivates teachers?”

D’Amico said the proposal would give more weight to high stakes tests such as the state-mandated STAAR at a time when federal education policy is going in the opposite direction.

A bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal would end the federal test-based accountability system of No Child Left Behind and restore the responsibility for determining how to use federally required tests for accountability purposes to states, D’Amico said.

Critics of the Texas bill said teachers don’t want districts to pay them based on test results for many reasons. In some cases, they have to teach pupils who are already under performing.

Students can do poorly for reasons beyond the teachers’ control, such as problems at home, he said.

And children develop at different rates, D’Amico said.

“Last session there was a major push by then-Sen. Florence Shapiro to do this,” he said. “There was resistance.”

D’Amico said the idea that districts will have a new degree of flexibility in paying teachers is “hogwash.”

“What’s wrong with leaving the salary schedule as it is now?” he asked.

The Senate recently passed its version of the bill.

Farney’s measure is undergoing a committee redraft, a staff member said.

Said D’Amico, “It remains to be seen what happens to Farney’s bill in the House.”

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