West Virginia Hopes Pay Boost Will Increase Math Teaching Skills

The state’s superintendent backs plans for a one-time salary incentive for non-certified math teachers. Last year, only 37 percent of students tested proficient in math.

by Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette / January 7, 2019
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(TNS) — State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said Friday he’d support some type of one-time pay incentive for educators who aren’t certified to teach math, but are teaching it anyway, to increase their math education skills, and for elementary school teachers to also improve their teaching techniques.

He suggested Gov. Jim Justice will provide more information in his State of the State address Wednesday.

“We’ll be developing a strategy that you’ll hear more about, to immediately give teachers who are not certified the opportunity to receive what I would call a content booster, and, perhaps, a differential pay stipend for obtaining that content,” Paine said. “I know that’s been something that has been a challenging issue in the past, but extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary actions and we’re willing to take them.”

Teacher unions have opposed allowing teachers to be paid differently based on what they teach. The state superintendent mentioned only a “one-time stipend” when speaking Friday at the West Virginia Press Association’s annual Legislative Lookahead.

Paine said, “We have an immediate need with teachers that are not certified as math teachers. Kids in those classrooms deserve teachers that understand mathematics. We have to fix that immediately.”

A West Virginia Department of Education report using data from last school year found 38 percent of public school math courses in grades seven through 11 are taught by “non-fully certified” teachers.

Last school year, only about 37 percent of tested public school students scored as at least “proficient” in math, per the state education department, and the proficiency percentage for high school juniors was only 29 percent.

Also, about a fifth of West Virginia public and private high school students who graduated in 2017 and enrolled in the state’s public colleges in fall 2017 were required to enroll in remedial math education classes.

That 20 percent figure includes students in several different types of remedial education classes, including courses that serve to teach students things they should’ve learned in high school while simultaneously letting them earn college credit. But the percentage doesn’t include students in “college level courses taught over two semesters, specifically designed for underprepared students,” according to the state report that provided this information.

Paine said the new math program could involve teachers taking practice PRAXIS tests at the start to show the state what they know and don’t, and then they’d get personalized plans and take the PRAXIS again at the end to earn the bonus.

Unlike older grade teachers, elementary school teachers generally aren’t separately certified in subjects like English and math — it’s all one certification. Paine said he’d offer a similar program to elementary teachers regardless.

“We have a problem with elementary teachers that are coming out of higher education that are not prepared to teach mathematics,” he said.

He didn’t mention how much the pay increase would be.

The presidents of the state’s two main teacher unions, who joined Paine at Friday’s event in Charleston, said they oppose paying math teachers differently.

“If the only vacancies we had in this state was in math, and you were filling every other position across the state, then we could say, ‘Maybe we should look at something like that,’ but that’s not the fact,” said Dale Lee, the West Virginia Education Association’s president.

He suggested the state should offer free classes to teachers who want to get new certifications.

“I think it could very easily create other problems, and shortages in other disciplines,” said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia arm. “I’m not sold on that idea.”

He suggested there could be loan forgiveness for teachers who agree to teach in particular schools or particular areas with shortages. The Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program is a way this is currently offered.

©2019 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.). Tribune Content Agency, LLC.