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Incentives may influence students' academic performance
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2012 21:18 PM

There is no denying the effectiveness of rewards on some people's behavior. For professionals, the notion that they could receive a bonus at the end of the quarter might push them to put in a few extra hours at the office each week. Then, there are the children who dread having their blood taken at the doctor's office, but soldier through it knowing they will receive a treat in the end.

When it comes to students, parents and teachers should not have to dangle flashy prizes before their eyes in order to get them interested in their schoolwork. However, many educators have tried this, and it has been effective in improving students' academic performance.

Rewards can overpower impulsivity
The younger the student, the more growing up they still have to do. Many students may be rather impulsive and prone to behaviors that cannot only disrupt their own learning, but that of others in the classroom. However, new research, which was recently presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting, Neuroscience 2012, reveals that big rewards are enough to help some students get their impulsive behavior under control.

Findings from multiple studies on the brain's "reward system" were presented at the event, with the results of one study showing that some adolescents have the ability to control impulsivity and focus. In one study, researchers found that when big rewards are on the line, adolescents can put impulsivity aside and rely on important brain regions to become more thoughtful. This process allows them to maximize gains by weighing evidence and making better decisions.

Higher grades – an effective incentive
When children are younger, the promise of a new toy or lollipop may be all it takes to get them to work a little harder. However, for older students, these types of incentives may not be as appealing – especially for high schoolers who realize candy will not help them get into their ideal college.

What does look good on a high school transcript is a higher grade point average. A total of 39 institutions in Los Angeles, California, were willing to give students better grades if they could raise their scores on the California Standards Tests, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011.

"We're always looking for a way to motivate kids to do better in school," Michael Taft, principal of Jefferson High School, told the news source. "I'd see them bubbling in carelessly and say, 'Are you reading that question?' They would say, 'No I'm tired.' They had multiple excuses."

Jefferson High School adopted the incentive program one year earlier and 400 of 1,600 students managed to improve one or more grades.

Cash for grades – a controversial incentive
There have always been parents who offer their children money in an effort to get them to try harder in school. However, some schools have also adopted this approach to boosting grades - something not every teacher is comfortable with. For example, the National Education Association (NEA) states that this type of rewards program may lead to conflict between parents and students, as well as pressure to inflate grades.

Still, there are parents, such as Stacey Priestley, who find cash for grades programs effective.

"My son gets money for grades," Priestly said, as quoted by the NEA website. "We tell him going to school and getting good grades is his job. If he does his job well, he gets paid just like a job in the real world."

No matter what type of incentive program students are exposed to, parents may want to see how rewards are influencing their intelligence. Having children take an IQ test for kids may provide the answers they seek.