LaCrescent, Minnesota Pay for Performance Plan: Revised and Still Running By Steven M. Kimball May, 2005

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1 LaCrescent, Minnesota Pay for Performance Plan: Revised and Still Running By Steven M. Kimball May, 2005 The LaCrescent-Hokah School District in Minnesota (ISD #300) began designing an innovative performance-based teacher compensation system during Representing a substantial departure from the typical teacher salary schedule that rewards educational credits and years of experience, the new pay system was designed to measure and reward teaching performance through a knowledge and skills or standards-based teacher evaluation system. The new pay system, described in a case study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (White, 2002), was implemented during the 2002 school year. Due to complications with the first year of implementation, the district and teacher s association decided to modify the original pay for performance design. The present report, which was developed from district documents and brief telephone interviews with two district leaders, provides an update on the original CPRE case study and describes the new pay design. Included is a brief overview of the initial pay for performance reform, complications that affected the implementation of the original plan, and a summary the new compensation design that is intended to maintain a pay for performance focus. Experience with Initial Pay for Performance Plan The initial performance pay plan was developed by LaCrescent-Hokah teachers and administrators to address concerns about retention of new teachers, competition for teachers from a neighboring district, and the slow process of advancing on the districts 30-step salary schedule. The new system was also designed to assess teacher quality across the range of teaching performance levels. The resulting plan represented a clear break from the traditional teacher salary schedule; it was formulated to provide opportunities for teachers to more quickly advance on the salary schedule, deliver feedback on how to improve, and reward teachers for performance. 1 Rather than basing pay decisions solely on years of teaching experience and education credits or degrees obtained by teachers, the new plan incorporated six teaching categories, ranging from novice to master, that was formulated on Danielson s Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 1996). There were three novice categories, followed by a career stage, then advanced, and finally a master teacher designation. Each category was determined by evaluation ratings on the four teaching domains included in the district s Framework-based teacher evaluation system. The domains include Planning and Preparation, the Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. 1 A comprehensive overview of the impetus and design of the initial LaCrescent evaluation and compensation reform is described in the original CPRE case study, available at 1

2 For transition purposes, teachers were initially placed within one of the six teacher performance categories according to their current salary level at the time of implementation in Salary advancement was based on a comprehensive evaluation of teaching performance. Teachers selected at least one of the four domains from the evaluation system on which they wanted to be evaluated. If teachers selected the Classroom Environment or Instruction domain, their principal and a teacher evaluator would schedule a minimum of two observations and also conduct two unannounced observations. The principal and teacher evaluator would conduct one of each observation. Additional evidence could also be collected, including examples of classroom assignments, teacher comments to students, assessment strategies, and other instructional activities. Summative evaluations and ratings were conducted jointly by the principal and teacher evaluator. Teachers who chose to be evaluated on the Planning and Preparation or Professional Responsibilities domain were required to complete a nonspecified portfolio. Principals and teacher evaluators discussed with each teacher possible sources of evidence for the portfolios, which could include logs of personal professional development activities, logs of parental contacts, lesson plans, student work, and written teacher reflections on each. The portfolios were scored by the principals. Over the course of four years, teachers would have evaluation ratings on all four domains, which would determine their teaching category and corresponding pay level. Teachers could advance on the schedule sooner if their score on the domain of focus for the annual evaluation put them into a higher category on the salary schedule (e.g., moving from proficient to distinguished on one domain). Along with the pay for performance elements, a cafeteria plan was added to the district teaching contract to compensate teachers for leadership activities. These activities included mentoring new teachers ($1,000), certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ($1,000 annually for the 10-year duration of certificate), department chair/curriculum leader ($1,000), and obtaining a master s degree ($1,000). Impetus for Changes to Pay Reform Plan During the first year of implementation of the performance evaluation and compensation plan, there were several challenges that ultimately led the district to change course and alter the pay design. Rather than give up and return to the traditional salary schedule, however, the district opted for an alternative pay for performance plan that, while scaled back in scope, still represents a change from typical step and lane schedule. One complication with the performance evaluation and compensation reforms related to the increased workload for teachers and evaluators and some confusion about requirements. In addition to multiple observations required each year (up to four), those teachers evaluated on two of the four performance domains (Planning and Preparation and Professional Responsibilities) had to submit portfolios with written materials and student work. But the portfolios were not specified and some teachers compiled an excessive amount of evidence, while others were confused about what to include. Although the portfolios were intended to represent a natural harvest of 2

3 materials that teachers routinely utilize, many teachers had never compiled portfolios and had difficulty completing them. While newer teachers were more comfortable with portfolios (many compiled such work during their pre-service education), others were under stress about selecting documentation and the reflective writing aspect of the portfolios. There was also a substantial increase in the workload for the three school principals in scoring the teacher portfolios. For example, one principal had 26 portfolios to score and sacrificed a number of weekends to complete the work. Scheduling times with the peer evaluator for observations of teachers and comparing scores also proved complicated for the school administrators. In addition to the perceived burden, there were some concerns among teachers about the fairness of performance ratings and related salary decisions. First, some teachers did not receive a raise under the new approach while others received substantial increases. Given their position on the prior salary schedule (i.e., at a relatively high level) and a stable performance rating, some veteran teachers did not move up in the new system. Other teachers received substantial raises (from $4,000 to $6,000) because of their position on the prior schedule (with a lower starting level) and strong performance rating, resulting in large rewards for improvement. Second, there were perceptions among some teachers that principals could subjectively interpret the evaluation rubrics, which could affect performance scores and pay decisions. Third, the system allowed for teacher salary to be at risk, with a reduction in pay if performance was rated lower than prior evaluation ratings. According to one administrator, some of these issues may have been worked out with modifications and time, but the program collapsed under its own weight before potential revisions could be implemented. Danielson-based Teacher Evaluation Retained Despite concerns about the increased amount of effort required under the performance evaluation and pay system reform, particularly relating to compiling and evaluating the required teaching portfolios, teachers and administrators valued using the Framework for Teaching as the basis of teacher evaluations. When the link to pay ended for the school year, the district decided to retain a Framework-based evaluation system for performance decisions relating to contract renewal and tenure status. There were, however, some modifications to the evaluation process, which are next summarized. The major differences between the prior evaluation system and the current one involves the evaluation cycle and portfolio requirement. Instead of evaluating all teachers annually, the timing of the new system is differentiated for tenured and nontenured teachers. Tenured teacher are evaluated once every third year on the domain or domains selected by the teacher related to a personal improvement plan. Principals work with teachers to develop goals related to the improvement plan and to identify sources of evidence that will apply to the performance evaluation. Formal teaching portfolios are no longer required for tenured teachers. 3

4 Non-tenured teachers are evaluated during each of their first three years on different performance domains. During the first year, new teachers are evaluated on Classroom Environment domain, with one pre-conference and announced observation, followed by 2-3 additional, unannounced observations, and a final summative evaluation conference. The same schedule is followed the next year, with the focus of observations on the Instruction domain. Unlike tenured teachers, new teachers must submit a portfolio documenting their performance on the elements in the Planning and Preparation domain. As with the original plan, the portfolio process and evidence is not specified, but under the discretion of the teacher and his or her evaluator. In their third pre-tenure year, teachers are evaluated on Professional Responsibilities domain and also must present a portfolio with their activities related to that domain. At least one formal observation is carried out in the third year to assess the Classroom Environment and Instruction domains and to recommend tenure. Based on their evaluation results, teachers may be non-renewed at any point during their first three years. After three years, principals make a final tenure determination. Modified Pay for Performance Plan The new Pay for Performance plan was negotiated and included in the LaCrescent Education Association Contract. The new system was designed and administered by a Compensation Oversight Committee that is made up of six teachers (two from each school level), the three principals, two school board members and the Superintendent. With the exception of the principals, Oversight Committee members serve two-year terms. While the district decided to remove the link between teacher performance evaluations and pay, they still chose not to reward experience and the accumulation of education credits. Instead, to receive pay increases, teachers must complete individual improvement plans that represent action research projects. If teachers successfully complete their projects, they receive $750 added to their base salary in the following school year. Teachers are also still eligible for annual pay supplements, which are awarded on top of their base salary (i.e., not built into base pay), through the variety of activities included in the cafeteria plan referenced above. In addition, teacher participation on the Oversight Committee was added to the cafeteria plan and is rewarded with $750. The following describes the structure and process for developing and approving individual teacher pay for performance plans. Structure and Process of New Pay Design The new plan is based on teacher action research projects that are initiated with the input of each teacher s learning community and intended to be related to student performance. Both the action research initiative and learning community process (see White, 2002 for a description) were initiated as separate instructional interventions at approximately the same time as the first pay for performance design. During the summer of 2003, all teachers received training in action research. The action research projects are 4

5 intended to focus the teacher on an aspect of their instruction that they want to better understand and use to improve student learning. For purposes of the new pay system, the district refers to the action research plans as pay for performance individual improvement plans. Learning communities are established in the fall of each year and may contain from three to eight members that are made up of members of the same grade level or subject area. Teachers meet with their learning communities and complete individual improvement or pay for performance plans with input from fellow learning community members. The pay for performance plans may be the same as the individual improvement plans tenured teachers must complete for their regular performance appraisal. In doing so, the plan goals must be connected to aspects of the Frameworkbased evaluation approach. The pay for performance plan contains the following elements written on a single page. The teacher first identifies a study question, which must be tied to belief statements established by the district or the school board s Vision for School Improvement. Next, a short description of the project is provided (approximately 3-8 sentences), accompanied by another short description of how data will be collected (also about 3 to 8 sentences). The teacher also submits to his or her learning community at least three different examples of literature that informed the study. The learning community then indicates that it has read and approved the improvement plan. Copies of the plan are submitted to the teacher s principal by the end of October. If needed, the principal and teacher meet to clarify the plan. Finally, the Compensation Oversight Committee approves the plans by the end of November. Once the teacher carries out the plan during the remainder of the school year, a three page summary is completed by the teacher. The summary reports on the study question, the procedure and strategies used to answer the question, the results based on the data collected, and conclusions. The conclusions are used to explain the data, interpret the results, and reflect on the implications for the teacher s professional growth. The approval process for completed plans follows a similar route as the approval of plan proposals. First, the learning community reads and signs off on the completed summary. Next, the summary is reviewed and approved by the principal by mid-may. If the plan summary is judged by the principal to be deficient, the principal must send an appeal to the Oversight Committee. Once the principal approves the plan or the Oversight Committee decides on an appeal (there have been no appeals to date), then the pay for performance award is achieved and the $750 is added to the teacher s base salary the following year. At this time, there is no formal set of rating criteria or rubrics for approving plans or plan summaries. Instead, the principals and Oversight Committee use a checklist to ensure that each step of the process, described above, has been completed. The school year served as a trial period for the new pay plan. The emphasis was on teachers and administrators learning the new process and improving teacher understanding of how to conduct action research. The results of the teachers individual projects were 5

6 considered as of secondary importance by the Oversight Committee. There was, however, recognition by the Oversight Committee that teacher plans varied in rigor and depth. The Committee is currently considering ways to improve consistency in the quality of the research projects. At the end of the school year, the Oversight Committee will consider whether to continue or modify the new pay plan. The LaCrescent-Hokah School District chose to change course early in its pay for performance reform journey, but has still maintained forward focus on the goal of pay innovation. Rather than continuing to reward longevity and teacher education, the only way teachers can earn higher salary amounts is through successful completion of individual improvement or action research projects or taking leadership roles recognized by the district. The LaCrescent approach merits watching as the district continues to focus its efforts on improving and recognizing teachers through its version of pay for performance. References Danielson, C. (1996). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. White, B. (2002). Performance-Based Teacher Compensation in LaCrescent, Minnesota. CPRE-UW Working Paper Series, TC Consortium for Policy Research in Education, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 6

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