Did Minnesota get the results it wanted from the “Quality Compensation,” or Q-Comp, pay-for- performance system for teachers?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell, but one thing is clear: Lawmakers and education leaders shouldn’t miss an opportunity to learn from the Q-Comp experience as the state prepares to implement a new teacher-evaluation system that will be mandatory statewide.
According to a Pioneer Press analysis, of the more than 10,000 Twin Cities educators who participate in Q-Comp, 99 percent received some type of performance pay last year. Teachers received an average bonus of $1,864 in the 17 metro districts that use Q-Comp.
About a third of the state’s school districts participate in the voluntary program with a budget of $76 million this fiscal year. Participating districts and charter schools are eligible to receive additional revenue of up to $260 per student.
When former Gov. Tim Pawlenty created Q-Comp in 2005, it was hailed as a ground-breaking effort to hold teachers more accountable and reward excellence, the Pioneer Press’ Christopher Magan reported.
He noted that Alice Seagren, then state education commissioner, agrees the current system is not what Pawlenty and lawmakers initially intended. “But she thinks it has positive impacts, which she hopes will continue to evolve.”
The program was the subject of a legislative auditor’s report in 2009 that said there wasn’t sufficient data to determine the impact of Q-Comp on student
achievement. The report said the program’s voluntary nature makes it difficult to draw conclusions about its effectiveness and that it’s difficult to “disentangle the effects of Q-Comp on student achievement from other initiatives in a school. Any changes in student standardized test scores could be due partly or entirely to the effects of other programs.”
That said, there’s praise, in particular, for Q-Comp as a driver of professional development for teachers.
Q-Comp “is a process to strengthen and improve the teaching corps and elevate the teaching profession,” said Kathy Saltzman, state director of the education-reform advocacy group StudentsFirst, and a former legislator. “When done right, it provides meaningful professional development and recognition for teachers, and that’s good for kids.”
When a district sets up a Q-Comp plan, when teachers have input and when 99 percent accomplish the objectives, “I don’t see what’s wrong,” said Tom King, a retired St. Paul teacher and administrator. Their effort is a “testament to improving your teaching.”
Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change, told us it’s more beneficial to reward teachers “as a group for progress in a school.” Rewards should come for “sharing their best ideas to help each other, rather than competing with each other.”
Incorporating student results as a component of a teacher’s evaluation remains the subject of debate, although Minnesota’s new system will require that 35 percent of an evaluation be based on student achievement.
“I have an abiding concern with movements here in Minnesota and nationally that tie teacher bonus compensation to standardized tests,” King told us. “It’s a terrible mistake, and a real deflection of time on task teachers have to work with kids.”
Test scores, he said, offer no definitive feedback on how to help kids with their learning. “What does 67th percentile mean?,” he asked. “It’s not helpful with kids, and it’s not helpful for teachers.”
But the achievement gap between white students and their peers of color “is real,” Saltzman said. “Until we recognize and accept it, how can we ignore test results? We need to see where kids are failing — and where are we failing kids.”
With time running short in the current session, Saltzman suggests that a legislative working group prepare recommendations for next year on how Q-Comp and the new system could align.
By all means, let’s use what we’ve learned with Q-Comp, but let’s also be sure — when we ask, years later, if it worked — that we have a better answer than “it’s hard to tell.”