Ace the test, win an iPhone

“Novato High School sparked a minor controversy earlier this year by giving out iPads and iPhones in exchange for higher standardized test scores,” reports the Novato Patch in northern California. Low-performing students who raised their scores significantly were eligible for the raffle. High achievers were not.

Across the country, schools are trying to motivate students with goodies, cash and parties.

* A high school near Boston offering seniors a $1,200 laptop for good attendance and getting into college or the military.

* The Baltimore school system paying $110 to each high school student who improved their scores on the state graduation exams.

* Suburban Atlanta schools paying students $8 an hour for a 15-week “Learn & Earn” after-school study program.

* Dozens of Los Angeles high schools offering a boost in classroom grades for students who scored high on California standardized tests.

At San Jose Middle School, a feeder to Novato High, students with good attendance and behavior records can skip classes once a month to attend a carnival-like event called College Friday.  September’s party featured a teacher dunk tank, jumpy houses, slides and snow cones.

At San Marin High School, Principal Adam Littlefield asks teachers to write personal notes of encouragement to students who are struggling.  He’s also awarded certificates held ceremonies to honor hard workers.  “I wouldn’t say that kids are gonna get an iPod or a car based on what they do,” he said.

Should we provide extrinsic rewards — such as money — to school students? Learning Matters is hosting a debate on the issue.

About Joanne


  1. It’s a good question which has two answers. Yes and no.

    If you give a piece of candy to students for giving right answers, they’ll stop once the flow of candy stops.

    But sometimes the extrinsic reward is a good jump-start.

    We’ve had an after school Shakespeare program that attracts over a hundred students every year. Most sign up because students are paid $100. But at the conclusion of the program, students talk about how they loved the experience and never mention the money. All would have gone through it without getting paid, but without the promise of the $100, none would have signed up.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    We already use extrinsic rewards and punishments. We say that if you flunk a course, you have to take it again. Most important, students are told over and over and over again, “If you don’t do well in school, you won’t get a good job. If you do do well in school, you will get a good job.”

    (Neither part of that statement is completely true. The latter is one reason the Occupy Whatever protestors are so pissed.)