Performance-Linked Rewards Increase Test Scores

Performance-based rewards have become an extricable part of the American corporate landscape. The benefits of the performance-linked pay model are evident. Yet, this model has not been whole-heartedly embraced and only partially assimilated by the country’s education sector. The debate on whether teachers should be paid based on performance continues to rage on, attracting its fair share of supporters and detractors. But opinions do little to reach an educated decision on this debate. We need to glean the outcomes of implementing a performance-linked rewards system based on relevant and measurable criteria, to understand the extent of its efficacy. That’s exactly what a Rice University study did, and discovered that the case for a performance-based financial rewards system may actually hold water.

Financial rewards encourage positive teacher and student outcomes

Led by the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC), the study observed the teacher and student outcomes of the ASPIRE educator award program implemented by the Houston Independent School District (HISD). The criteria for measuring outcome were (a) teacher retention (b) teacher attendance and (c) student performance. The study group comprised teachers across 279 schools under HISD’s jurisdiction, eligible for monetary awards in the 2009-2010 school year.

HERC discovered that the monetary rewards encouraged teachers to perform better in relation to counterparts who did not receive the awards. On the work ethics front, eligible teachers registered a 20% improvement in attendance and were found to be twice as likely to stick to their job compared to their non-eligible counterparts. Financial rewards also seemed to positively influence their commitment to student excellence. Students of eligible teachers scored better in the math portion of Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). Improved scores in the Stanford reading test were also registered. Interestingly, teacher outcomes from larger financial rewards were better compared to those from smaller incentives.

ASPIRE is an HISD initiative launched to recognize and reward teachers who have demonstrated their excellence, and work towards the recruitment and retention of talented educators. As part of the rewards system, teachers are evaluated on the basis of student scores on standard tests and school ratings given by the Texas Education Agency.

Implications of the study

According to a NY Times blog (“Does it Pay to Become a Teacher?” Sep 11, ’12), teachers in the United States are not as well paid as those in many developed countries. A primary-school teacher in the country is paid 67 per cent of the salary drawn by an average worker with a college degree. The repercussions of this pay divide and the generally less-than-desirable remuneration package of American educators are felt in both teacher and student outcomes. HERC’s study can help policy makers re-think the merits of a performance-based rewards system and give the country’s finest educators their due.

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