One of the big “reforms” in Senate Bill 5 is the elimination of existing minimum pay scales for teachers. It also does away with pay increases based on experience. The original version of SB5 replaced experience-based raises with a poorly defined merit-based pay requirement. And the bill that finally passed the Senate had been amended to include a set of “performance measures” that may seem to be slightly less biased but turn out to be just as confusing, possibly harder to interpret and, if passed into law, will be nearly impossible to implement without setting off a landslide of legal action.

I’m going to do a more detailed analysis of the merit/performance-based pay scale in the coming days – but I wanted to share something a little more personal this evening.

I recently received an email from a special ed teacher in Columbus named Daria DeNoia who provided testimony to the House last week about SB5. With extensive teaching experience and multiple degrees (including a Master’s Degree in special education) Daria’s testimony, not surprisingly, covered a lot of ground, provided some important statistics and presented enough interesting ideas to fill multiple blog posts.

After reading through her testimony multiple times I decided I needed to immediately share the best and most moving part of her testimony: a very personal story about her students that raises questions about the proposed merit/performance-based pay system and the lack of specifics/clarity on how it would apply to teachers like herself who teach special education.

With Daria’s permission, I’ve reprinted that part of her testimony below.

Senate Bill 5 replaces the existing predictable salary schedules for teachers and institutes performance pay. I am very confused about how this will impact me, a teacher of students with multiple disabilities. I do not have a classroom with first grade students who follow a district mandated curriculum and take standardized tests. Rather, I have 8 students in Room 1, grades K-4, who have a range of disabilities and disorders including but not limited to: Autism ranging from severe and profound to higher-functioning on the spectrum, Downs’ Syndrome, visual impairments, receptive and expressive speech deficits and delays, mobility concerns, fine-motor deficits, gross motor deficits, other-health-impairments, ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder.

Each of these students has their own Individualized Education Plan with specific goals and objectives that relate to the child’s individual and highly-specific needs. In any given school day I manage the needs of 8 students and instruct and gather data for the goals and objectives that are found on 8 Individualized Education Plans.

This year one of my students has a goal that includes learning to read 30 sight words, another student has the goal of making eye-contact when spoken to, another student has a goal to reduce the number of times she hits, kicks, or pushes the teacher or peers when unhappy to zero times per school day using behavior management techniques, and another student has the goal of learning to use a spoon to self-feed.

My students will never take standardized tests, as their cognitive and physical disabilities and behavioral needs prevent them from participating in a standardized testing situation, even with accommodations. All of my students qualify for alternate assessment. Alternate assessment does not begin for multiple disability students until grade 3, and most years I do not have any students old enough for this method of assessment.

How, then, will my performance be judged as a teacher?

Who will determine whether I did my job with these students? More importantly, what administrator will realize how much progress a child has made when they read 6 words, when that child finally looks you in the eye if you say hello to them, when that child is only hitting once a day instead of 9 times a day, or when that child learns to use a spoon?