Misguided, test-driven Teacher Incentive Allotment will benefit less than 1% of Texas teachers

This week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the names of the first 26 school districts approved for a Local Designation System as part of the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which was a part of HB 3, passed in 2019. Although the TIA has been touted as a way to pay the supposedly “best” teachers more money to retain them, while also offering some stipends for them to work at low-performing campuses to raise test scores, there are significant flaws and the TIA should not be seen as any kind of solution to the state’s history of underpaying educators. The TIA system identifies the “best” teachers, in large part, by the results of their students’ STAAR test scores. The 26 participating districts, about half of them charter schools, had to first be approved by TEA, and the approved plans are seen to be very heavily reliant on standardized testing. This unsustainable TIA program will only apply to 3,650 teachers who teach in these approved districts, benefitting less than 1% of Texas teachers.

Incentive systems based on testing create disturbing impacts of causing a disincentive to teach struggling students, unfairly compensating teachers, causing high turnover and low morale, and exacerbating the problem of teaching to the test. We know this, because three of our members, who teach in Dallas ISD, have benefited from higher pay from the system on which the TIA is based. When the Legislature discussed implementing this faulty system statewide in 2019, these members were there with powerful testimony to dispel the hype and reveal the ugly side of incentive programs based on testing.

Our members told the committee how they compared median salaries to the socioeconomic status of each campus and found that the system is rewarding those educators who already are teaching students achieving well. They saw this pattern across the district and found that the largest raises were given to teachers at wealthier schools and magnet campuses. These teachers are deserving of the extra compensation, but left out are equally hard-working and effective teachers at other campuses.

As our members told the lawmakers,  the Legislature should “start listening to the real experts in education policy—teachers—and refuse any measures that would promote pay-for-test scores.” We agree and would assert that engaging in pay-for-performance schemes ultimately hurts the students with the most needs, especially at a time when educators are reinventing how public schools deliver instruction and students are still acclimating to new ways of receiving instruction. What is really needed is higher base salaries for all Texas teachers.