In these troubled economic times, it would take a lot for a school district to turn down a gift of $2.5 million. But that’s just what the Oregon City School District has done.

The 8,100-student district was part of a group of school systems and a non-profit organization that applied to the federal government for a federal grant through the “Teacher Incentive Fund.” That fund awards money to districts that agree to implement performance-based compensation systems in high-needs schools for teachers and principals that include the use of standardized test scores and merit pay.

Officials in Oregon City’s district and teachers union thought, according to the Oregonian, that they could take the money — which the coalition won in 2010 — without implementing performance pay.

But the district, which has spent $55,000 of the $2.54 million grant, has been unable to come up with a merit pay plan, so it is leaving the program and therefore won’t use the rest of its allotted money, the newspaper reported. The U.S. Department of Education refused a request from the district to allow it to implement a plan that did not use test scores to hand out performance bonuses.

District Superintendent Larry Didway was quoted by the Oregonian as saying: “We certainly, as a team, do not believe that providing an incentive to teachers based on increased test scores of any individuals is going to make a difference in student achievement."

Right he is, and it’s past time that the Education Department acknowledged that there is no real evidence that using test scores for evaluation is a valid and reliable assessment tool.

The National Research Council issued a report earlier this year concluding that incentive programs for schools, teachers and students aimed at raising standardized test scores are largely unproductive in generating increased student achievement. The council is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

Other studies too, have found fault with the validity of “value added” methods that are used to evaluate teachers and principals based on student standardized test scores, yet the Obama administration continues to push reforms that use this approach.

Some of the best performing school districts in the country right here in the Washington D.C. area — such as Fairfax County and Montgomery County, manage to have fine evaluation systems without using test scores. When will the federal government get the message?


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