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Expert believes monetary rewards for student achievement may hinder student learning

TUESDAY, APRIL 05, 2011 15:42 PM

Officials from the University of Chicago recently announced that efforts to improve teacher performance through monetary incentives have failed because the measures used to determine their reward was not intended to help determine their pay.

They argue that testing systems may make it difficult for school districts to obtain consistent measures of students and teacher performance over time. However, this could also push educators to coach for test scores rather than helping students learn the subject matter.

"Many accountability and performance pay systems employ test scores from assessment systems that produce information used not only to determine rewards and punishments for educators, but also to inform the public about progress in student learning," said Derek Neal, professor of economics at the school.

In some cases, teachers have cheated in response to the pressure of these tests, while others may avoid discussions that can lead to more comprehensive learning. Instead, educators devoted more time to activities geared toward preparing students for the exam.

Neal says that education officials should separate the provision of incentives and the measurement of student and teacher performance by using separate testing programs for these two tasks. This would alleviate the pressure for teachers to teach to the test.