- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015


The Republican leader of the state Senate says he will push legislation to raise Alabama teacher pay to the highest in the Southeast, but such raises could come with changes to tenure and using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the education bill will be a top priority for him in the upcoming session.

“We want to find a way to bring our starting teacher salaries to the highest in the Southeast. I think to do that, you are going to have to bring in certain accountability that the taxpayers are going to require if you are going to pay them the most,” Marsh said in an interview about the upcoming session.

Marsh said details are still under discussion.

He said one option could be offering teachers a choice between a tenure track - that includes the old pay scale and traditional job protections - and a non-tenure track with a higher pay scale.

One early draft of the legislation, circulated to get input from education groups, would make “growth in student achievement” during the school year - measured by standardized test scores -eventually count for 45 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation. The state Department of Education will develop the evaluation model to determine if teachers meet, exceed or fall below expectations, according to the bill draft.

Marsh emphasized the legislation was still being formed and he was trying to get input from various groups.

“The tricky part is coming up with a formula that gives proper weight to different aspects - whether it is off of test scores, what is the actual student achievement levels. … We think we can come up with a formula that’s fair that we can use,” Marsh said.

Teacher groups have traditionally expressed concern over attempts to tie pay to test scores, arguing that gauging what is going on in a classroom is a complex undertaking.

Sheila Remington, president of the Alabama Education Association, said the group was monitoring the proposal. She said she would be cautious about any evaluation or pay structure that put too much emphasis on test scores.

“There are some students that are fantastic but that freeze up on a test,” she said.

Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, a former high school principal, said he was likewise concerned about a system that put more emphasis on “teaching to the test.”

“That’s just a portion of what is taking place inside a school. … Education is about dealing with the whole child,” Ross said.

Marsh said he hoped to have a bill finalized by the first week of the session that begins Feb. 2.

The minimum starting salary for a new teacher, with less than three years of experience, was $36,867 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and $42,395 for a teacher with a master’s degree, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Education.

“It’s going to be a big commitment for this state going forward, but I think it is one worth pursuing,” Marsh said.

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