Florida to Pay Teachers Bonuses for High Test Scores

In Florida schools, like in so many states, it is all about the test. The 800 students at Miami's North Twin Lakes Elementary can't move in the school without being reminded that the standardized test -- in Florida called the FCAT -- is everything. They have to sign a pledge, and they even have a song about it.

Now in what could become a model for the nation, Florida wants to offer a 5 percent cash bonus to teachers who can get their students to deliver the best test results. The idea of test-driven incentives for teachers is now being explored in 20 states.

"Teachers who inspire their students to significant achievement or who perform additional duties should see our appreciation for their efforts reflected in bigger numbers on their paycheck," said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

But there is real anxiety about linking teachers' pay to student performance.

"We teach hundreds of things that aren't taught on the test," said Florida elementary school teacher Lucy Torres, "so I don't think that's a good measure of how the children are learning."

Standardized tests are one way to assess students' progress, but are those same tests a fair way to measure a teacher's success? Should a good teacher be quantified as if he or she works in a bank or a business?

Teachers say the test can't possibly capture leadership skills and the ability to inspire.

Based on students' test scores and progress made in reading, writing and math, schools are given a letter grade ranging from A to F. Principal Louise Harms helped raise North Twin Lakes Elementary School from an F to an A in just two years. She does not believe test-based bonuses will push her teachers further.

"I think it will cause dissension among teachers," she said. "Rivalry among teachers."

But in a system determined to see better test results, some political leaders believe a little bit of the free enterprise competitive spirit may be the right answer.