Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Wisconsin: Separating Teachers From Results

This weekend, news broke that Wisconsin may not be eligible for certain federal education funds because of an interesting law on the state’s books.  Under Wisconsin law, teacher pay cannot be influenced in any way by student test results – meaning, the amount we pay teachers are legally not allowed to have any relation to how much their students are learning.  This may effect the state’s eligibility for $4.3 billion in federal “Race to the Top funds,” which will be distributed to the states “with positive records of what the [education] department considers school reform as well as plans for additional improvement.”

According to Chapter 118.30(2)(c) of the Wisconsin State Statutes, “the results of examinations to pupils enrolled in public schools, including charter schools, may not be used to evaluate teacher performance, to discharge, suspend or formally discipline a teacher, or as the reason for the nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract.”

Laws such as these that provide a firewall between teachers and student performance recently came under fire by President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan.  In an interview with the New York Times, Duncan specifically singled out Wisconsin for having such a law on the books:

“Believe it or not,” Mr. Duncan said, “several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that’s simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why.”

In fact, this issue was the subject of a WPRI report released in May by researchers Mark C. Schug Ph.D. and M. Scott Niederjohn Ph.D.  Among their research and recommendations two months ago:

These effects can serve as measures of performance in performance-based compensation programs. To the extent that value-added testing does provide valid and reliable measures of performance, the argument for traditional salary schedules is nullified…

As indicated in our survey, many Wisconsin school districts have moved to embrace new trends in testing. Nonetheless, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has been slow in providing leadership in this regard. While the DPI has taken some positive initial steps toward a statewide value-added assessment system-including the development of a statewide data system, working with outside consultants to consider growth-oriented models and forming a technical advisory committee-Wisconsin lags behind many states in the implementation of new value-added testing methodologies. Wisconsin is far behind in experiments regarding pay-for-performance for teachers.


The state Legislature should act now to abolish statutory provisions that disallow the use of results from state testing in teacher evaluation. At a time when many districts have begun to use testing programs that go beyond the WKCE-CR, it makes little sense to prohibit them from taking into account the information they obtain from these programs in their evaluations of teachers’ effectiveness.

Of course, NOW people will start to listen, since there’s a dollar sign attached to the recommendations.

As it turns out, State Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon) are drafting legislation to allow the use of student testing data when determining teacher pay.  They believe such a change could mean up to $612 million more in federal funds for Wisconsin.

Governor Doyle, on the other hand, believes the state already qualifies for the funds – despite being called “ridiculous” by the guy actually handing out the cash.


  1. No surprises here, The teacher unions been funding the current regime so long results no longer matter. We have now several generations passed through incompetent and accountable system and we wonder why our state economy is the way it is. This exacerbates brain by those indepedent thinkers beating a path to the state line. We create academic no getters whose objective is to maintain things as they are. Just another reason Madison needs an enema, promptly.

  2. Notice how this is only going to be changed to allow us to spend more on teacher pay. It would be wonderful to use this data to reward good teachers, but we should also be able to use this data to rid of awful teachers.

  3. I understand we need to have improved student outcomes, but this can not just be the responsibility of the teachers. Where is the responsibiltiy of the parents? Some of the homelife is also not conducive to improve the outcomes. The Administrations and unions need to work jointly to hold teachers accountable and dismiss the poor teachers. I can’t imagine having to teach to many different levels of capabilities, keep everyone moving along, and then expect to have great outcomes as we keep increasing class size due to decreasing budget. I appreciate the teachers and I could never be one.

  4. Jean Surguy said,

    I understand we need to have improved student outcomes, but this can not just be the responsibility of the teachers.

    Where has anyone said student results are solely the responsibility of the teachers? Who has argued that student results should be the only factor in determining teacher compensation? I don’t know if it’s just an honest misunderstanding of this issue or it’s an intentional lie/distortion to make a straw man argument.

    To be perfectly clear on this – the issue is that state statutes prohibit student achievement from having ANY influence on teacher compensation. That is just plain stupidity. We can argue over how big of an impact it should have – 5%? 25%? 75%? To resolve that will require compromise. But for state law to force it to be zero is insanity and removes all accountability.

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