Teacher Incentive Allotment Update: Not a solution to underpaid teachers

For more information and an update on the program during the pandemic, see this FAQ from TEA here

Although the Texas Teacher Incentive Allotment (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 system identifies the “best” teachers, in large part, by the results of their students’ STAAR test scores. What is not mentioned often are the disturbing impacts of incentive systems based on testing: creating 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. Yet, when the state 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, including:

Our members 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.

 Another flaw to the TIA is the limited pot of money available, which caps the number of teachers in each rating category that will result in higher pay. Many teachers who are scored almost as high as their peers are not rewarded the same, and even teachers with improving scores are often left in the middle of the pack with lower compensation. Most disturbing for these members, however, is the effect incentive systems have on our students. Instructional time and hands-on activities—such as labs, discussions, or inquiry-based lessons—are often foregone in favor of rote test prep for the large number of assessments given. We estimate about one month of a teacher’s time involves either administering or preparing to administer an assessment. Due to the high-stakes nature of these tests, teachers are forced to either do what’s right for their students or go against their conscience to better financially support their own families by striving for a higher TIA score. Even more perverse is the fact the STAAR test is not even designed for teacher evaluation and is being misused. 

As our members told the Legislature, Teachers want to help all students but this incentive system based on tests actually creates a financial disincentive for teachers to serve at campuses with the highest levels of need. Alliance-AFT member Kristen DeRocha told the committee,  “We have been rewarded well under this system, but we won’t ignore the inconvenient truths that we’ve discovered in the data, nor will be silent witnesses to the destructive side-effects of pay based on student test scores. The Legislature and the Dallas ISD School Board 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 hurt the students with the most needs.

Not surprisingly, the only school districts that have been approved for the TIA by the commissioner of Education so far have been those that place a very large emphasis on standardized testing.

For more information and an update on the program during the pandemic, see this FAQ from TEA here