Patt Morrison for May 24, 2011

The carrot, the stick and the apple: LAUSD high schools reward improved standardized test scores with higher grades

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This manhole cover was found in the warehouse district of Phoenix near the US Airways Center.

It’s often hard for students to see the benefit of doing well on standardized tests. It’s more obvious to school officials: proposed teacher evaluation systems tie teacher tenure to these tests; low test scores can ultimately shutter schools; and even Superintendent John Deasy’s salary depends on those numbers. The LAUSD is now aiming to make it more glaringly apparent to students, by tying their performance on the California Standards Tests (CST) to their grades. If students at 39 L.A. campuses improve their test scores by one achievement category, they’ll see their Grade Point Average (GPA) jump a whole grade. A pilot program at Jefferson High in south LA saw significant improvement last year, with ¼ of its students boosting at least one grade with a bump on their CST scores. How effective are these incentive programs? Schools in Dallas and Washington have even started offering cash rewards for a job well done, but critics worry this is “teaching to the test” and only temporarily motivates students. Is that alone maybe enough?

Guest:

Michael Taft, Principal at Jefferson High School in south LA, which participated in a pilot grade incentive program last year


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