Thousands of teachers across the state are receiving bonuses this January as a reward for helping improve their students’ test scores. That includes pre-existing bonuses for some specialized high school teachers* and third grade reading teachers, as well as brand new bonuses in certain core subjects in elementary and middle school.
The Long and the Short of It
The big news is that the state widely expanded bonuses for math and some language arts teachers whose students had stellar scores on the end-of-grade exams that all North Carolina public school kids take in third through eighth grade. However, other science and language arts teachers -- who meet the same objective criteria used to create the new bonuses -- are not eligible to compete for similar rewards because their subject or grade-level were not given a bonus appropriation in the state budget.
Nearly 8,000 public school teachers will receive bonuses this year for their students’ exceptional growth on end-of-grade exams. Those bonuses go to teachers whose classes scored in the top quarter of the state, or of their district, in Education Value Added Assessment System (EVAAS) scores. Those scores measure a child's growth on end-of-grade exams relative to his or her past test scores.
The 2017 state budget created new competitive bonuses for fourth and fifth grade reading and fourth through eighth grade math teachers. It also continues bonuses begun last year for third grade reading teachers.
Pay-outs for these bonuses this year range from $2,300 to $6,400 dollars. That range includes payments to more than 5,000 teachers who received combined bonuses for EVAAS scores ranked in the top quarter of both the state and their district.
This is all a little number wonky, so here’s an infographic to help:
Do bonuses reward the right teachers, and how do we know?
Last year, WUNC reported that some educators criticized or questioned the bonuses for third grade reading teachers: for diminishing a sense of teamwork and collegiality; for elevating the importance of standardized tests; or for not factoring in the contributions of teachers in other subjects or previous grade-levels.
The idea of that last criticism being that, well, didn’t the second grade teacher also have something to do with the third-grader’s test score?
The EVAAS score does to some extent isolate growth on tests in a way that can be attributed to the current teacher. It compares a student’s score this year to their previous, or predicted, score.
“That growth score has kind of got the student's prior performance baked in,” explains Thomas Tomberlin, the Director of Data Research and Reporting at the Department of Public Instruction. “So these teachers who are receiving the bonus, in most cases, really generated academic performance above what we would have expected for those kids.”
What about science and middle school English teachers? What does the budget say?
The state budget, while greatly expanding bonuses for math and many elementary English teachers, did not create parallel bonuses for science teachers and junior high language arts teachers.
Tomberlin administers the EVAAS-based bonuses according to state statute. Fifth and eighth grade science and sixth through eighth grade language arts teachers also receive EVAAS scores for their students’ end-of-grade exams, which factor into schools’ performance grades on the NC Report Card. However, the law did not provide bonuses for those subjects.
“My explanation is that we administer the bonuses as they're prescribed in law. Those are the subject areas that were indicated receive the bonuses, and that's how we paid,” Tomberlin said.
Tomberlin says he has heard from one science teacher whose students scored exceptionally well on their end-of-grade exams, but who was not eligible to compete for a bonus.
“DPI would love to pay bonuses to every teacher who demonstrates academic success with their students,” Tomberlin said. “But unless we’ve got an appropriation and direction from the General Assembly, we don’t have the means or authority to do that.”
*Specialized Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Career and Technical Education teachers at the high school level get paid a different bonus at a rate of $25 per student who passes an accreditation test in their subject.