The Bend-La Pine school district is working on altering long-standing methods of setting teacher pay. The first changes may be tiny, but they are firmly in the right direction.

Traditionally, teachers get so-called step increases each year until they reach a maximum. It’s automatic, based only on time and university credits. A teacher gets a raise even if he or she gets an unsatisfactory performance evaluation.

Bend-La Pine is still ironing out some details, but administration and union have agreed to a five-year pilot program in which the newest teachers would need to satisfy a list of requirements to earn step pay hikes. An added incentive would allow them to move to the fifth-year level in four years by completing the requirements faster.

For example, step one requires the teacher to complete “safe schools training,” initial digital training, a first-year mentor program, “school improvement Wednesday training,” license and endorsement requirements, participation in a school or department team, professional goal setting and review, and a satisfactory performance evaluation. Many of these actions are already part of a teacher’s routine, but not linked to raises.

The current pilot plan affects only teachers in the first five years, called “early career professionals.” Some will have a choice about whether to join the pilot. Further negotiation is planned to seek agreement for a similar program for “professional educators” teaching for up to 20 years, and “master educators” in the following six years. One possible change would be to require master educators to earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Direct measures of student performance are not part of the plan, but the district says the new requirements are correlated with student achievement. Student test scores are used as one element in teacher evaluations, which are themselves only one element in this program.

Teachers nationwide have resisted linking pay to student test scores, and the concept of pay for performance is highly controversial. Bend-La Pine is participating in a grant-financed study examining the effects of merit pay, and educators are still struggling to find a way to use student performance to reward teacher performance.

While those efforts continue, it’s heartening to see Bend-La Pine start the move away from rewarding teachers just for showing up. These are baby steps, but they do represent a breakthrough toward linking pay and accountability.