Bend teachers oppose bonus plan

Proposal by Bend-La Pine Schools pegs bonuses to student scores

Ben Botkin / The Bulletin /

Bend-La Pine Schools’ teachers union opposes a school district proposal that would give bonuses to educators based on students’ academic performance.

The school district proposal is aimed at providing opportunities for payouts to educators working at nine of the 27 district schools. The nine schools are ineligible to receive bonuses through the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant program. The remaining 18 schools participate in the federal program, which allows the district to gauge the impact that performance incentives have on schools.

The measure, known as a value-added measure, is intended to predict how every tested student should perform on state reading and math tests, taking into account student characteristics like demographics, mobility and socioeconomic status.

The goal of the measure is to look at how well students perform beyond what’s expected. The federal program provides funding for incentives to teachers at top-performing schools.

The Bend Education Association, which represents teachers, believes that approach doesn’t have the right focus because of the proposal’s reliance on state test scores.

“Teachers will say the incentives for student test scores is not something that is an effective way to make teaching better,” said BEA President Mark Molner. He stressed that teachers strongly support professional development and improving their craft.

The district proposal would provide up to $100,000 in general fund money for potential payouts to educators at the nine schools that aren’t getting federal dollars, but are still participating in the same school improvement efforts.

It’s also intended to address the perceived unfairness that the educators at those schools are unable to receive financial bonuses, unlike their peers in other schools.

Under the proposal, schools would be eligible for varying payouts based on performance in math and reading. There would be three levels with varying payouts: exceptional growth, high growth and above-average growth. Schools without adequate growth wouldn’t receive any bonuses.

At the school board meeting last week, Superintendent Ron Wilkinson called the value-added measure another lens by which to look at school performance.

In an interview, Molner said, “I suppose that’s true, but by having this incentive component, it becomes more than just another lens; it becomes the focus. People want to be able to measure and they don’t have an accurate tool to do that with.”

Wilkinson said the advantage of the value-added model is to focus on the growth of individual students.

“It is based on test scores, but in this case, it’s based on using that data to focus on the growth of each child,” he said.

The district believes it’s important for teachers to work together for schoolwide improvement, he said, adding that state assessments will continue to hold schools accountable.

“To pretend we don’t want to be held accountable based on them doesn’t fit well with Oregon’s accountability system,” Wilkinson said.

The school board did not vote on the proposal, but agreed the issue needs further consideration after listening to both sides at its meeting last week. Board chairman Ron Gallinat said the proposal will be discussed in upcoming weeks.

If the board were to vote in support of the proposal, the district would need to send a letter to the union about the requested changes. The BEA would then have 14 days to decide whether to accept the changes or enter negotiations with the district.

The nine schools are: Amity Creek Magnet School, Highland Magnet School, High Lakes Elementary School, Lava Ridge Elementary School, Ponderosa Elementary School, W.E. Miller School, Cascade Middle School, Mountain View High School and Summit High School.