Motivating seniors to perform on NAEP

End of year state or national assessments are complex.  They supposedly provide reliable data on students’ proficiency – all via one, standardized assessment – which supposedly reflects the effectiveness of teachers and, in turn, schools.  Hence, the term “high-stakes” assessments.  For students, however, they don’t mean much.  What is going to motivate a high school senior to give it his/her all?  The results are not factored into grades or reviewed for college admission.  It’s always been an interesting dilemma.  A study authored by Boston College’s Henry Braun and Irwin Kirsch and Kentaro Yamamoto of the Educational Testing Service explored the effect of monetary incentives on students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  The results?  Offering an immediate incentive motivated students to do perform better than they might have otherwise.  

Researchers focused on a sample of 2,600 high school students from 59 schools in seven states taking NAEP tests in reading.  Within each school, students were randomly assigned to one of the three test-taking conditions:

  1. Students were paid $20 at the beginning of the test.
  2. Students were paid $5 in advance and $30 at the end of the session if they correctly answered two randomly chosen questions on the test.
  3. Students received no incentives (control group).

Interestingly, the second condition, which factored performance into the incentive proved to be the stronger incentive.  “Under both conditions, though, scores for both male and female students were, on average, at least 5 points higher than the scores for the no-incentive group.”  The researchers are smart to mention that it probably is not be feasible to offer monetary incentives to all seniors taking NAEP.  My main takeaway from this study:  It is essential for educators to help high school students see the value of performing on such high-stakes assessment.  Using incentives is one way to make the value concrete and immediate.  However, since offering monetary incentives to all high school seniors is not economically feasible, why not leverage the proven power of recognition to drive performance.  Think about the endless possibilities!