The federal government plays an important role in funding local schools, and without federal funding many schools would cease to exist. Tests such as the ACT and SAT don't affect federal funding, but annual achievement tests measuring student knowledge can alter the funds to which a school has access. This approach to education remains a hotly contested one.
While schools don't have to administer annual achievement tests, they'll lose funding if they don't. Local school districts determine test content, but with the recent push toward meeting Common Core standards, states' tests are becoming more standardized. A school that consistently fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP; measures the amount of academic growth per school) standards may not be able to access some grants and other forms of funding. After five years of failure to meet AYP standards, a school can be closed altogether.
Some local school districts have tied teacher performance to salary. If a teacher's students consistently perform well on standardized tests, she or he may become eligible for a pay raise. A charter school in Illinois, for instance, paid 43 of its teachers up to $113,400 (average bonus of $2,637 per educator) in 2015-16 when their students showed improvement on tests or did well in science fairs, among others. Another Illinois district used teacher evaluations to calculate bonuses. In addition to performance pay for highly effective teachers, some public school districts, like the District of Columbia, offer larger bonuses for teachers within schools that are difficult to staff. Teachers in low poverty schools received bonuses of $2,000 or $3,000, but teachers in schools with high poverty rates were eligible for bonuses of $10,000 or $15,000. If and how performance pay funds are distributed within a school is up to the individual school districts.
Supporters of tying testing to funding argue that it rewards the best schools and best teachers and that it holds educators responsible for doing their jobs. When schools don't meet annual benchmarks, they may be required to offer tutoring to their students or even replace their entire administration. Some education advocates believe this gets students the best possible education. The standardization of the educational curriculum, some supporters argue, may also help ensure equality and equal access to a quality education for all students.
Many teachers, as well as the National Education Association, argue that teaching to the test limits classroom creativity and reduces students' opportunities to learn skills that aren't on the test. Similarly, the tying of funding to school performance may mean that poorly performing schools actually have access to fewer resources, and that students may be sent to schools in other cities if their schools are closed. Some critics emphasize that standardized tests are not always a sufficient measure of what a student has learned, so tying funding to performance could unfairly punish some schools and teachers.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.