North Carolina Teachers Rewarded with Test Score-Based Bonuses

Published February 15, 2017

The North Carolina General Assembly approved a state budget in July 2016 that included an average pay increase of 4.7 percent for teachers across the state.

“Those [teachers] in the top 25 percent in the state according to student growth scores in reading from the previous year will split $5 million,” the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) reported in July 2016. “Third-grade teachers whose reading growth scores put them in the top 25 percent in their local districts will split another $5 million pot.”

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction announced in January 1,318 teachers with 3rd-grade students who scored in the top 25 percent in state reading exams received $3,523 each. At the district level, 1,293 teachers had students with reading scores in the top 25 percent; they received an average bonus of $3,926.

High school Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) teachers were also awarded a $50 bonus for each student receiving a score of three or above on an AP exam and a four or higher on IB Diploma Programme exams.

‘Pragmatic and Deliberate’ Approach

Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, says new leadership at the state level has transformed the state’s education system.

“Since the election of a Republican majority in both chambers of the General Assembly in 2010, lawmakers have tried to move the teacher pay system away from the one-size-fits-all model,” Stoops said. “Their approach has been pragmatic and deliberate: to pilot various research-based performance and incentive pay models and find one or more that rewards high-performing teachers and, more importantly, encourages them to stay in the classroom.”

Will ‘Boost Student Achievement’

Stoops says merit pay will ultimately benefit students as well as teachers.

“Differentiated pay will not somehow extract an untapped reserve of skill and ability from a teacher,” said Stoops. “What it will do is boost student achievement by helping to keep the best and brightest [teachers] in the classroom while encouraging poorer performers to pursue other endeavors.”

Improvement to Current System?

Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst at the Civitas Institute, says it’s important to compare new strategies to tired, old ones.

“I’m a big fan of merit pay,” Luebke said. “Current salary schedules link teacher pay to time, not job performance, but most discussion gets bogged down around people showing it to be an imperfect system. No policy will be perfect. We need to be comparing the new system not to perfection but to whether or not it is an improvement over the current system. Does it encourage and incentivize the things we want?”

Stoops says states should experiment to find the best merit pay model for their particular circumstances.

“My advice would be for legislators to pilot several performance and incentive pay models to determine which offer the largest return on investment,” said Stoops. “It is tempting to replicate a comprehensive model used in another state or school district, but it is important to craft a plan that accounts for the unique demographic, political, and structural characteristics of the schools in the state.”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.