Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Paying Kids For Good Test Scores

I accept the argument that if we want better information from our standardized test scores, we have to make the tests meaningful to the students. One way of doing that is to pay them for doing well.

Want kids to score well on statewide tests?

Reward them.

Before they ask, "What's in it for me?" offer a prize for performance.

That's the thrust of a proposed state law passed this month by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"What we're really looking at is recognition and motivation and incentive to achieve," said Sen. Elaine Alquist, a Santa Clara Democrat who proposed the measure.

Senate Bill 1709 would authorize and encourage school districts to provide nonmonetary incentives to middle and high school students for achievement or improvement on standardized tests.

Absolutely a stupid idea for reasons intuitively obvious except to the most stupid.

Local businesses could be asked to donate prizes, such as tickets to movies, concerts, restaurants or sporting events.

Few will try harder because they think they'll win a movie ticket. Kids who think they won't do well anyway certainly aren't going to try any harder.

This is one more data point for why we need a part-time legislature; the bill was sent to Governor Schwarzenegger. Fortunately he vetoed it.

In a veto message, the governor didn't reject the idea of doling out nonmonetary payola to kids who score high marks or show significant improvement on state tests. But he said no new law is needed...

"This bill is unnecessary since nothing in the current law prohibits a district from creating their own nonmonetary incentives for students today, even in the absence of this measure," Schwarzenegger said in his veto message.

At least Alquist isn't a total loser:

"This bill sparked the type of debate we need to have on the paradox with the STAR testing program – which is that schools, but not students, are held accountable based on the results," Alquist said in a statement Friday. "While I am disappointed the governor vetoed the bill, I plan to continue looking at ways to ensure that STAR tests are meaningful to both students and schools."

I'm not holding my breath, though.


rightwingprof said...

I'm on the fence about this. It's common for business classes to have corporate sponsors who offer things like computers, or even internships, to case competition winners. I must admit, though, I don't like just paying them. Incentive is great, but I'd rather see businesses giving them employment than a prize.

Elaine C. said...

My school uses the STAR data (at least for math) as one of several ways of determining if a student is ready for Honors and/or Alg 1. We also tell all our students this, so they've got a pretty big buy-in for this test also. (I teach at a charter middle school.)

This seems to me a much better form of extrinsic motivation than cash or tickets, or such - especially since the time between the reward and the event is so great that there is minimal association.

If the state REALLY wants a better student buy-in, then need to have the scores back before 4 months have passed!

Darren said...

I'm one of those few teachers who buys into the need for standardized testing hook, line, and sinker--but that doesn't keep me from recognizing the myriad ways we screw it up here in California. Taking 4 months to get the scores back is just one of those ways....

M.A. said...

Some school districts (and communities) have almost completely done away with the idea of competition. Think of the school that banned playing 'tag' or the Little League that gives a trophy to ALL participants.

In an effort to continue trying to make sure no feelings are hurt, I fear that schools would just give awards to everyone for participation. This would negate the competition that the idea is trying to use for boosting success.

Erica said...

I say we go back to the old tried and true method of motivation, which also happens to be one of the least expensive choices:

Post all academic scores in public.

Adeline said...

Love Erica's idea, but can see that one go over like a turn in the punch bowl. Did I hear right when someone said Schwarzenegger wanted to pay all state employees minimum wage in order to reduce the state deficit?

What's up with that?

Darren said...

He's trying to force the legislature to agree on a budget. Supposed to decide today whether he's going to do it or not. State employees would get "retro pay" when the budget is agreed upon.

Stupid idea. Everyone but he and the legislature agrees that it's the legislators who should get minimum pay.

The state controller has said he'd ignore any order and would pay state employees their full pay.

And we wonder why government doesn't work in California.

Adeline said...