Seattle Public School Principals receive bribes, uh, bonuses, based on student test scores


Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement between Seattle Public Schools and the Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools for 2013-2016, on page 17, Section B:

SPS will offer individual effectiveness awards up to a maximum of $7,500 each year. Five award tiers….will be determined based on summative scores on a multiple measures principal Balanced Scorecard that includes a weighted combination of the following elements:

40% of leadership practice/competencies
30% Student growth based on a value-added model
20% Other student outcomes (e.g., achievement gaps, college readiness, graduation rates)
10% Perceptions of stakeholders (e.g., peer, staff, student and family surveys)

Both parties agree that a value-added model will be included as a core component for both the individual awards and the group awards.

Let’s look at what a “value-added model” (VAM) means. From Diane Ravitch’s post titled The Problems With Value-Added Assessment:

Last week, I was in Los Angeles. I spoke to L.A. teachers, who were shamed by the Los Angeles Times’ disgraceful release of test-score data and ratings of 6,000 elementary teachers as more or less effective. I had previously believed that such ratings (value-added assessment) might be used cautiously by supervisors as one of multiple measures to evaluate teacher performance. The L.A. Times persuaded me that the numerical scores—with all their caveats and flaws—would drown out every other measure. And, in fact, the L.A. Times database contained only one measure, based on test scores.

And so I concluded that value-added assessment should not be used at all. Never. It has a wide margin of error. It is unstable. A teacher who is highly effective one year may get a different rating the next year depending on which students are assigned to his or her class. Ratings may differ if the tests differ. To the extent it is used, it will narrow the curriculum and promote teaching to tests. Teachers will be mislabeled and stigmatized. Many factors that influence student scores will not be counted at all.

The latest review of value-added assessment was written by New York University economist Sean Corcoran. He examines value-added assessment in Houston and New York City. He describes a margin of error so large that a teacher at the 43rd percentile (average) might actually be at the 15th percentile (below average) or the 71st percentile (above average). What is the value of such a measure? Why should it be used at all? Please read this important and well-written study.

When I was learning about Value-Added Models (VAM), I came across this video which was produced during the time when there was a push to rate teachers on their student’s test scores. “Merit pay” referred to additional bonuses received if a teacher did “well”, or rather her students performed “well” on a test.

My concern with merit pay or bonuses is the emphasis on test scores and therefore limiting the curriculum to what will be on a test rather than drawing upon the information and allowing the students to explore and connect the dots, pulling together information from different sources and developing critical thinking skills in the process to arrive at conclusions. Critical and creative thinking skills are truly what is needed in the 21st Century more so than being able to answer short and distinct questions by filling in a bubble on a standardized test.

Also, in offering bonuses, you are getting buy-in from Principals who have a lot of control over their teaching staff. It’s the buy-in of  standardized tests being important and critical to education, the Common Core Standards, a curriculum which is questionable at best, and the top-down system of the Common Core Standards and other corporate reform policies.

For articles on the subject of VAM, see:

Student Test Scores: An Inaccurate Way to Judge Teachers
By Monty Neill

Rethinking Schools: Neither Fair Nor Accurate • Research-Based Reasons Why High-Stakes Tests Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers by Wayne Au

To follow is a video created by Dr. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Associate Professor at Arizona State University and author of Rethinking Value-Added Models in Education: Critical Perspectives on Tests and Assessment-Based Accountability:

Rethinking Value-Added Models (VAMs)

Another recommended article on the Value Added Model is Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data written by mathematician John Ewing. To follow is an excerpt:

But the most common misuse of mathematics is simpler, more pervasive, and (alas) more insidious: mathematics employed as a rhetorical weapon—an intellectual credential to convince the public that an idea or a process is “objective” and hence better than other competing ideas or processes. This is mathematical intimidation. It is especially persuasive because so many people are awed by mathematics and yet do not understand it—a dangerous combination.

The latest instance of the phenomenon is valued-added modeling (VAM), used to interpret test data. Value-added modeling pops up everywhere today, from newspapers to television to political campaigns. VAM is heavily promoted with unbridled and uncritical enthusiasm by the press, by politicians, and even by (some) educational experts, and it is touted as the modern, “scientific” way to measure educational success in everything from charter schools to individual teachers.

Yet most of those promoting value-added modeling are ill-equipped to judge either its effectiveness or its limitations. Some of those who are equipped make extravagant claims without much detail, reassuring us that someone has checked into our concerns and we shouldn’t worry. Value-added modeling is promoted because it has the right pedigree — because it is based on “sophisticated mathematics. “As a consequence, mathematics that ought to be used to illuminate ends up being used to intimidate. When that happens, mathematicians have a responsibility to speak out.

In terms of the 30% based on Other student outcomes (e.g., achievement gaps, college readiness, graduation rates), my guess is that measuring the narrowing or widening of the “achievement gap” and “college readiness” will also be based on test scores.

See page 3 of this document to find out how many hours of standardized testing your child will take this year. Then ask your principal for your school’s testing assessment calendar because the testing hours shown per Michael Tolley’s memo to the school board will vary only in the fact that there might be additional testing, practice tests or pilot tests administered.

These are the Principals on the Executive Board of the Principals Association of Seattle Schools who signed the Collective  Bargaining Agreement representing all Principals in Seattle Public Schools:

Gerritt Kischner: President
Erika Ayer
Joanne Bowers
Christopher Carter
David Dockendorf
Jolene Grimes
Ruth Medsker
Marjorie Milligan
Anitra Pinchback-Jones
Vicki Sacco
Keisha Scarlett
Amy Schwentor
Kevin Smith
Michael Stone
Brian Vance
Lucinda Watters
Kevin Wynkoop

Submitted by Dora Taylor

14 thoughts on “Seattle Public School Principals receive bribes, uh, bonuses, based on student test scores

    1. Also, when the Times reported it, it was without context or explanation about VAM and what that means.

      I was told about the article and after reading it and then looking at the contract, I believed it deserved greater attention which it is now getting.


  1. Nice blog Dora. I dug up an old blog I wrote about VAM a couple of years ago and I’m going to link it to yours to update it if that’s okay with you. Let me know.

    Here’s some older stuff including an “enlightening” video on how VAM came to be. Within the first moments of the presentation, the presenter says, “We have no idea what good teaching looks like. We’re not educators, we’re economists.” Then he goes on and on for nearly an hour to explain how to evaluate a good teacher. I’m not making this up.

    You can’t possibly stand to watch the whole thing, but skimming through for a couple of minutes will give you the idea of how absurd VAM is. (Laughter through tears.)

    Link to the entire blog:

  2. Taken from the previously mentioned Seattle Times article:

    “In Seattle, principals can receive up to $7,500 in bonuses if their students perform well on a series of measures, including test scores. Teachers don’t earn extra money if their students do well on the state test, but low test scores can trigger a closer look at their job performance, and teachers whose students make big gains are eligible for higher-paying positions as mentors for their peers.”

    It will be interesting to follow the Beacon Hill story.

    1. Good point.

      The Broad Superintendent in Atlanta, Beverly Hall, and several teachers are at trail over the cheating in the Atlanta Public School system.

      Beverly Hall herself is not in court due to “health reasons”.

      See Here’s How An Alleged Cheating Ring That Could Send Atlanta Teachers To Prison Was Uncovered,

      Here is an excerpt:

      “Prosecutors are using a law originally enacted to go after mobsters to accuse former principals, teachers, and administrators of trying to boost their bonuses by conspiring to artificially raise kids’ test scores. While only 12 ex-educators are on trial in Atlanta, dozens of teachers and administrators were initially charged and many have since pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation.”


      1. One more article by A former Atlanta Public Schools teacher, Verdaillia Turner is the president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers and Atlanta Federation of Teachers.

        Clearing the clouds that hang over Atlanta schools

        By Verdaillia Turner

        The test-cheating scandal in Atlanta public schools was a black cloud that has hung over our city and state for three years. It has always been our policy that cheating should never be condoned.

        The Georgia Federation of Teachers/Atlanta Federation of Teachers was the first to blow the whistle on possible test erasures by teachers—and indeed, many people paid the price for using poor judgment. But as we also learned, the scandal shined a light on the state’s destructive, test-driven education system that has cared more about showing student progress on standardized tests, whether the scores were legitimately earned or not.

        For more, go to


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