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Wed, June 23

WUSD to offer incentives for AzMERIT teachers

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WILLIAMS, Ariz. —As districts prepare for another school year, looming spring AzMERIT testing already has school administrators planning ahead.

Last year, the Arizona Department of Education returned to issuing A-F letter grades for schools, with the state’s AzMERIT standardized test results weighing heavily on those grades.

Williams High School and Williams Elementary-Middle School received B grades.

At the high school level, half of the letter grade is dependent on AzMERIT results and improvements on the AzMERIT, and the rest of the grade is determined by graduation rates and how well schools are preparing students for post-secondary careers.

School district grading in Arizona is of concern for administrators and parents since many parents use the grades to determine which school to enroll their children in, and even where to live.

This revelation puts pressure on school administrators and teachers to improve AzMERIT scores throughout their districts.

Because of this additional pressure, Williams Unified School District Superintendent Rick Honsinger is looking at ways to provide an incentive for teachers who are responsible for the AzMERIT content.

Honsinger proposed a $1,500 to $2,500 cash incentive in 2018-2019 for teachers whose students show improvement on the AzMERIT test.

“I need to make it clear that I do not feel that these teachers need an incentive,” Honsinger said. “I think they do their best without it. It’s more a show of gratitude for the stress and responsibility they carry.”

Honsinger said teachers whose classes are at the 50th percentile in passing rates will get $1,500, classes at the 60th percentile will get $2,000 and those at the 70th percentile and above will get $2,500.

At WUSD, the teachers in the incentive program will include two high school English teachers, two middle school English teachers, two high school math teachers, two middle school math teachers and all third through fifth grade teachers.

Honsinger said he had been developing the idea for several years and this year decided to approach the entire staff for a consensus on the idea.

“I got a lot of positive feedback,” Honsinger said. “I talked to the entire staff about how tough it is to be AzMERIT teachers — you’re always on the spot. You’re carrying a lot weight on your shoulders; the school rating is put on you.”

Honsinger said the staff took an informal vote and of the 38 responses, 36 said they thought it was a good idea.

Honsinger said the school receives the AzMERIT scores in May 2019 and at that time will use class averages to see if teachers meet the criteria for a bonus.

“Growth scores compare how students did to their previous year’s scores and only compare them to other kids in the state who performed similar to them the year before,” he said. “Third grade doesn’t have growth scores, so we will use passing rates compared to the state to set the criteria for third grade teachers.”

The WUSD governing board approved the incentive program at its Aug. 8 meeting, with the money to come from forest fees.

“In this small town, people put a name on a particular score,” he said. “These people carry the weight of our school grade and have their scores publicly displayed. That’s a burden that other non-AzMERIT teachers do not have to carry.”

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