Paying for test scores pays off

Low-income students offered cash for high test scores improved more than similar New York City students who got no reward, reports the New York Post.

About two-thirds of the 59 high-poverty schools in the Sparks program — which pays seventh-graders up to $500 and fourth-graders as much as $250 for their performance on a total of 10 assessments — improved their scores since last year’s state tests by margins above the citywide average.

The gains at some schools approached 40 percentage points.

For example, at PS 188 on the Lower East Side, 76 percent of fourth-graders met or exceeded state benchmarks in English — 39.6 percentage points higher than last year, when the kids were in third grade.

At MS 343 in The Bronx, 94 percent of seventh-graders met or surpassed state standards in math this year — 37.3 points higher than last year, when the students were sixth-graders.

Principals reported “more motivation, better focus and an increase in healthy competition for good grades among students.”

The experiment is privately funded.

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  1. Reverse pay for performance. Teachers fight against pay for performance and students endorse it?

    WILL STUDENTS GO ON STRIKE IF WE STOP PAYING THEM? Or will they demand more in times of inflation? We would save even more if they stop attending.

    It would be interesting if the question was stated differently.
    Will a student offered a bribe (dollars subtracted from the budgeted per pupil cost in the school district) perform as well or better than the student only getting the ordinary fully funded resources of the school district?

    At the high school level it may discourage kids from working part time and encourage them to do homework.

    How much of the money goes to kids who were already doing well?

    I worry that giving money for grades may just encourage cheating and not learning.

    Is there a way to measure “more motivation, better focus and an increase in healthy competition for good grades among students”?

  2. Recently GreatSchools hosted a poll that asked parents, “Should schools give students cash for good grades?”

    * 27% — Yes. It will motivate struggling students.
    * 46% — No. Bribing students is always wrong.
    * 27% — Maybe. We should test a reward system.

    Total votes: 1,381
    February 2008 –

    gbl3rd, I think parents are on the same page as teachers. We know that while cash for good grades might re-ignite kids’ motivation in the short term, we need to reinforce their intrinsic motivation to see lasting results.

  3. Forget the morality of “bribes”.  This sounds like one of the cheapest ways to get students over the social problems in the way of paying attention to academics.  We can’t clone our best teachers, but we can certainly print more cash.  If that’s all it takes to produce motivation, I’m all for it.

  4. M C Smith says:

    At least four decades of research in motivation have pretty convincingly demonstrated that these sorts of rewards simply don’t work. Yes, there are short-term benefits and gains in test scores, but the incentivizing effect of cash-for-grades (or test scores) wears off quickly. Students come to feel controlled — not by their teachers or parents — but by the bribery itself and thereby become less motivated. Cash for grades is easy. The hard work lays in creating school and classroom environments where students feel valued, where the schoolwork is authentic, challenging, and meaningful and leads to deep engagement in learning.

  5. This cracks me up. We’ve come full circle. Back in the 1950’s Robert Heinlein wrote a short story set in the near future, during a time he described as the Crazy Years. To illustrate the absurdity of the era, he used a series made-up newspaper headlines. One of them that I clearly remember* was “Students strike, demand higher pay, right to choose professors”. Another was, “Earth eating fad moves west, Kansas city preacher eats clay sandwich in pulpit.”

    At the time, both headlines seemed equally absurd.

    *these are not exact quotes, my memory is no doubt at fault on the details

  6. This does provide one response to all the hand-wringing about the difficulty of motivating students.

  7. Joe Hudson says:

    We need to shed our middle class values and framework. We too believe in incentives but the question is for who and how they should be distributed. Scholarships our cash incentives, reductions in insurance rates for “good students’ are cash incentives and access to internships and leadership opportunities that build the foundation for future well-paying and meaningful employment can be assigned a cash value. Let’s stop the B##…. and acknowledge that most of the internal motivation that “the middle and upper class’ value so highly is attached to tangible rewards that are economic in nature.