NEW PLYMOUTH -- The Students Come First laws are a hot topic for the upcoming election. During the City Club of Boise's forum Tuesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said the state modeled Proposition 2, the pay-for-performance law after the New Plymouth School District, which he says has seen student achievement increase in the last 10 years.
Numbers from the district show the claims that student achievement has increased are true. Several grade levels and subjects in the New Plymouth School District went from some of the worst in the state to the best.
In 2002, the New Plymouth School District was faced with the new federal policy - No Child Left Behind.
"We thought we were doing well, but we were like in the lower quartile of test scores and things," said Phyllis Nichols, a counselor at New Plymouth Elementary School.
At that point, about 45 percent of students in the district, kindergarten through third grade, were proficient in reading. Middle school math students were 51 percent proficient. The teachers and the district's superintendent knew things needed to change if they wanted student achievement to improve.
"We knew that our teachers were the ones that had to do the thinking, the innovating, the creating, the doing things differently to raise our test scores," said Ryan Kerby, Superintendent of the New Plymouth School District.
Teachers and administrators started talking, sharing ideas. They decided to try pay-for-performance. It started small with dinners, before it escalated to several hundred dollar bonuses.
"After that first year, I believe everybody got their $1,000 because our test scores did go up," said Nichols.
In 2012, the district’s reading proficiency for K through third grade, is the best in the state, over 95 percent. Other scores across the board went up as well. The teachers we talked to say the bonuses are nice, but it's the collaboration part of the plan that's also contributing to test scores improving.
"I think we weren't working as smart as we're working now. We were working hard, but just not working smart. We weren't collaborating like we are now," said Jerilyn Tracadas.
To qualify for bonuses, New Plymouth grouped elementary teachers in the same grade and teachers teaching the same subject in middle and high school together to qualify for bonuses. The state system will allow schools to group teachers how they best see fit. But is it beneficial statewide?
"For us it's worked. Our test scores are up," said Nichols.
"I guess it would depend on how it's structured. In our district it's been structured that it's created a team atmosphere, and I think that's the key," said Tracadas.
The teachers we spoke to say pay-for-performance and teachers working together were the biggest changes in the district in the last 10 years.
The Idaho Education Association has been very vocal about it opposition to Proposition 2. The IEA has consistently stated that any pay-for-performance compensation system must be fully funded with new money and be sustainable.