NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 19, 2007

Five grade schools in Little Rock, Ark., are continuing an experiment in linking teacher merit pay to student test scores.  Teachers at the Meadowcliff School, formerly full of student underachievers, were promised bonuses linked to improvements in the standardized test performance of each student. 

The size of the bonus increased relative to the student's year-over-year test gains:

  • A 4 percent improvement earned a $100 bonus, rising to $400 if the student gained 15 percent (some did).
  • Everyone in the school was in the bonus plan, including the cafeteria ladies, who started eating with the kids rather than in their own lounge.
  • Scores improved and 12 teachers got bonuses from $1,800 to $8,600.

Last year, Wakefield School was added to the bonus program (after the school's unionized teachers voted overwhelmingly for it), and this year three more grade schools were added -- Geyer Springs, Mabelvale and Romine.  All are urban schools of the sort everyone in America professes to be concerned about.

At Wakefield (and the three newest schools), the bonuses are awarded for the average growth in test scores of each teacher's class, rather than per-student achievement as at Meadowcliff:

  • At the fall start of Wakefield's first year in the program, its students tested in the 16th percentile; at year's end they were in the 29th percentile; its teachers got $228,300 in bonuses; Meadowcliff's second-year bonuses totaled $200,926.
  • The students' math grades improved by a standard measure (called NCE) of 3.5 points, while those in three Little Rock comparison schools declined.
  • That 3.5 point gain equals about one-sixth of the normally cited national average gap in math scores between black students and white students; if compounded for six years, the gap would close.

Source: Daniel Henniger, "Give Top Teachers a Bonus," Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2007.

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