NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 21, 2008

Offered up to $1,000 for scoring well on Advanced Placement exams, students at 31 New York City high schools took 345 more of the tests this year than last.  But the number who passed declined slightly, raising questions about the effectiveness of increasingly popular pay-for-performance programs in schools here and across the country, says the New York Times.

For example:

  • Students involved in the program, financed with $2 million in private donations and aimed at closing a racial gap in Advanced Placement results, posted more 5's, the highest possible score.
  • That rise, however, was overshadowed by a decline in the number of 4's and 3's (three is the minimum passing score).

The effort to reward city students for passing Advanced Placement tests is part of a growing trend nationally and internationally, and one of several new programs in New York, to experiment with using financial incentives to lift attendance and achievement.

The results, scheduled to be formally announced on Wednesday, are likely to be closely examined by both enthusiasts who herald such programs as groundbreaking innovation and detractors who deride them as short-sighted bribes that threaten broader educational progress.

"I'm just dumbfounded that they can regard this as an achievement or as a great improvement or as something worth spending the money on," said Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who had expressed cautious support for the Advanced Placement program when it was announced last fall.  "I'm surprised that that kind of money, that kind of incentives, doesn't produce better results.  It sort of undercuts the argument that the problem is the question of motivation."

Source: Elissa Gootman, "Mixed Results on Paying City Students to Pass Tests," New York Times, August 20, 2008.

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