Teacher merit-pay study doesn’t get a gold star — yet

The U.S. Department of Education’s “What Works Clearinghouse” issued a note of caution today about a much-ballyhooed study of teacher merit pay in Tennessee. The Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT) study, released in September 2010 by researchers at Vanderbilt University, found that offering bonuses to middle-school math teachers in Nashville if they raised student test scores did not result in improved student achievement.

The study’s findings have been embraced by those wary of differential pay for teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores – mainly, teachers’ unions and their supporters. For those who support merit pay, including the Obama administration, the results of the Tennessee study were dismissed as too-limited in scope.

The What Works Clearinghouse, which evaluates education research, said the study doesn’t live up to its evidence standards. Although POINT used a random sample of teachers, the researchers didn’t provide enough information about the sample of students involved in the study, the WWC report said. In a footnote, the WWC report notes that the Vanderbilt researchers are planning to release more data soon, however, after which point the study will be reevaluated.