February 2017, Vol. 2

BEST: An acronym with a twist

by Keith McLemore

Since the 1980s, many merit pay models meant to differentiate teacher pay based on some measure of performance have come and gone almost as quickly as they arrived on the scene.

Common challenges for implementing performance pay include finding a proven standardized student assessment system, long-term funding, a method for gauging an educator’s value-added contribution to student growth, and getting participant buy-in.

Confounding things further is how to fairly judge one educator’s performance compared to another because of differences that exist between students, classrooms, schools, and districts.

For a district considering the viability of merit pay, the challenge isn’t being able to account for all of these issues, but accounting for as many as possible. Bryan ISD has come up with a plan to tackle these obstacles.

Breaking down BEST

BEST, an acronym for Bryan’s Excellence for Students and Teachers, is a targeted compensation plan built by Bryan ISD with a focus on increasing academic success and attracting and retaining high-performing classroom teachers. For purposes of the initiative, classroom teachers are defined as those who are evaluated under Texas Teacher Evaluation Support System (T-TESS).

Officially launched during the 2016–17 school year, the plan was formulated and designed over a 14-month period starting in 2014. The design team was composed of approximately 40 members and included an intentional majority of classroom teachers from all grade levels and subjects, community representatives, school board members, and other key campus and district personnel. 

Who gets what?

The plan is relatively straight forward and consists of three basic components, or “Modules,” which are best thought of as add-on pay mechanisms.

Module I provides all current teachers with a yearly base pay increase of $1,000, regardless of subject area, depending on the availability of funds. Module I was designed to start the program off with an optimistic tone by providing a pay increase to all classroom teachers. 

Module II provides all teachers in critical assignments (math, bilingual, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness [STAAR] subjects, classes with an end of course [EOC] exam) an additional $1,000 supplement. Half of the stipend is paid in December around the holidays when teachers are most likely to have extra expenses and the other half is paid in May. Module II supplements are prorated for those who have split positions or combined duties.

Module III consists of performance rewards available to all classroom teachers, regardless of whether they are tested or not, and includes the following facets:
  • $1,000 paid in December to all classroom teachers on a particular campus if that campus receives a “Met Standard” rating from TEA for academics for the prior year
  • An additional $100 to each classroom teacher on a particular campus for each TEA academic distinction earned by that campus. Campuses have a maximum of five to seven distinctions available depending on the grade level
  • An additional $250 per classroom teacher if their campus meets district-defined student attendance goals
Module III performance rewards are paid in the year following the measurement period, which means the employee must return to Bryan ISD to receive the award. This was designed to improve retention. Teachers that retire or are promoted internally are still eligible. Additionally, Module III award recipients must meet all of the following criteria:
  • Be full-time, start employment on or before September 1st, and complete the entire assigned duty calendar and contractual year
  • Return to the same campus (unless a transfer was initiated by the district)
  • Return to work full time (greater than 50% FTE)
  • Have a positive performance evaluation
  • Be an employee in good standing
  • Complete 30 hours of professional development during the year
  • Not miss more than four days of work, excluding protected forms of leave such as family and medical, temporary disability, military, jury duty, and school business

What’s next?

While payouts for Modules I and II will take place in 2016–17, the reward-based payouts for Module III will not occur until 2017–18. The initial results seem to be positive.

According to Tracy Coleman-Hilton, Human Resources Coordinator for Bryan ISD, communication is key.

“We have tried very hard to get this information out but we still come across teachers that know little about it,” she said. “From those that we have heard from, all think it is a great idea, although there is some resentment that Module II did not apply to all classroom teachers.”

For districts interested in the plan, she offers several valuable suggestions from her direct experience with the project:
  • Clearly define your qualifying group(s)
  • Look at every teacher type by position to ensure you've justified why they are in Module II (or not)
  • Communicate early and often
  • Ensure you've given enough time to audit the master schedules
  • Consider the substantial administrative time involved, not just for planning and implementation, but for calculating the award amounts and determining eligibility
  • If an attendance component is included, there may be an increase in requests for family and medical leave because these absences are excluded from the attendance requirement
As for any new program, only time will tell if Bryan’s BEST program achieves a measurable, positive impact on student performance and teacher retention.

The district says it intends to evaluate the plan annually based on measurable data points such as graduation rates and scores on placement tests like the ACT, SAT, and PSAT.