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State commission looks into changing teacher licensure, evaluation, and compensation

An example of the changes PEPSC could potentially make for teachers' salaries in Alamance County
PEPSC Draft of Salary Schedule
An example of the changes PEPSC could potentially make for teachers' salaries in Alamance County

The state Board of Education has tasked the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, known as ‘PEPSC,’ with revamping teacher licensure and compensation standards.

And the commission, established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017, has been doing this work for the past 18 months, according to Dr. Van Dempsey, the dean of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Watson College of Education. He’s also the incoming chair of PEPSC.

The proposals coming out of the commission’s subcommittees have established certain certifications or pathways to increased teacher salaries.

“How do we build a compensation and reward structure that reflected the importance of that, and the sophistication of that, and the work that teachers have to do to build and attain that knowledge base and is reflected in things like their salaries, but it's also reflected in years of experience, things like master's degrees,” said Dempsey.

For example, in the most recent model that’s emerged out of PEPSC’s subcommittees, a "License I" teacher would earn $38,000 a year — and at the opposite end of the spectrum would be an advanced teacher making upwards of $72,000 a year.

The challenge, Dempsey said, is “how do we make sure we compensate that expertise both financially and in the structure of their time, so we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re saying to those teachers, ‘Continue to be a full-time teacher, and by the way, would you take on this responsibility?’"

He reiterated that these proposed changes will help teachers to excel, not to find teachers to “get rid of and get rid of them,” said Dempsey.

Concerns about the new model

But Tamika Walker Kelly, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said she’s not happy with the current model.

“We have very real concerns about tying license and compensation of our educators to student performance outcomes as on student state testing, student surveys, things of that nature,” said Walker Kelly.

Further, Walker Kelly said reconfiguring this evaluation and salary system is not what they need.

“If we just honored the pay scale that we had now and adjusted it for inflation, our educators would be highly compensated right now, if we made those policy changes in the North Carolina General Assembly. It does not need a complete overhaul of the licensure and compensation system,” said Walker Kelly.

PEPSC, according to Dempsey, is trying its best to get an evaluation and compensation system that respects the profession of teaching.

“In the particular situation in North Carolina, we can't afford to lose a single teacher. So our best bet is to elevate the practice of all teachers. So number one, they feel supported. Number two, they continue to grow as teachers. Number three, they don't want to leave, they want to stay in the profession, that's the model that we need to build,” said Dempsey.

This new state model, according to Dempsey, will likely have several evaluative structures like principal and peer observations and measured growth on student assessments.

Questions about EVAAS transparency

These student growth assessments that teachers are judged on are known as the Education Value-Added Assessment System or EVAAS developed by the software company, SAS.

Walker Kelly has her own take on this teacher evaluative tool.

“So EVAAS is a highly secretive formula that no one knows how that number is achieved, and so it is very subjective. And so many of our educators who are assessed with EVAAS scores believe it's unfair because they have no input in how they receive that score,” said Walker Kelly.

Jennifer Coston is a Hoggard high school science teacher. She said variables like peer groups, the transition from middle to high school, extracurricular activities, struggles at home, and even attendance are likely not a part of the EVAAS algorithm. And she said that the fact that teachers are not allowed to see how the scores are calculated makes the system faulty.

She added, “ironically if a teacher used a single day’s test score or pure opinion to determine a student’s overall grade, it would be considered very poor practice.”

Dempsey has heard concerns like Coston and Walker Kelly’s before — and the commission is looking into it because not all teachers have a course in which they can use the EVAAS system to evaluate their student growth.

“[It’s] understanding how that data can be useful in terms of supporting teacher practice, and children's learning experiences. But also understanding all data has problems. And so it’s an important concern that needs to be addressed before the model is finalized,” said Dempsey.

Dr. Laura Sartain is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s School of Education. She spoke with WHQR last November on these EVAAS assessments.

“At the teacher level, especially, those growth measures are much more stable when there are more students going into it. And a school-based metric is pretty stable because you’re looking at all the students in the school, but if there aren’t that many students who are contributing to a teacher’s growth then they just become noisier,” said Sartain.

‘Noisier’ means things like a student’s parents going through a divorce, parent job loss, or a health crisis.

Further, Sartain said that looking at multiple years for a teacher is better for evaluating them on student growth levels, but then “that’s a potential policy problem for newer teachers, you don’t really have anything to look at."

Using surveys to gauge effectiveness

Coston added that the PEPSC commission should be cautious when using student surveys.

“How does a student know if a teacher has covered all of the students unless they go digging through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction's (NCDPI) website? Did a teacher get high survey scores because they challenged students or because their class was an easy A?”

Dempsey said student surveys might be used as one of the components to assess teachers, but if this tool makes it into the final policy, “understanding how to design those instruments to number one, cannot be done on the fly, [...] it takes sophisticated work to differentiate these between kindergarten to 12th grade.”

Compensating teachers, avoiding excessive bureaucracy

But Demsey said he and the commission are committed to having ways for teachers to grow in their careers and be better compensated for those achievements.

“But the bottom line is if we get everything right with that infrastructure, and then we don't do the hard work and the hard decisions that we need to make around compensation, reward structures and making sure that people who stay in the profession who are excellent teachers are rewarded for that over their careers, if we don't get both parts of this right, it will fall apart – we got to get it right,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey added that teaching is a profession affected by market forces.

“And until we recognize the fact that people will make choices based on [that], we are going to have problems,” said Dempsey.

But ultimately, for her part, Walker Kelly said teachers need support without “them having to jump through additional hoops to prove that they are effective enough to receive more money.”

Dempsey agreed that he doesn’t want this new evaluation and compensation plan to become a large bureaucracy.

“We have to work really hard not to put barriers in the way of people who are trying to become teachers, but we got to balance that with making sure the knowledge of the practice is at a level that they are in a classroom as an autonomous or semi-autonomous professional,” said Dempsey.

PEPSC meets on the morning of Thursday, Sept 8, to discuss a new draft of the licensure and compensation standards.

Dempsey said because of ongoing discussions and continuing feedback, it might be a while before the commission officially votes on the proposal to send to the state Board of Education for review.

“So it’s not about being in a hurry. It’s about clarity,” said Dempsey.

New Draft for PEPSC Sept 8 by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

Salary Schedule Sample by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

Copyright 2022 WHQR. To see more, visit WHQR.

Rachel Keith