Test score incentives driving wedge between rich, poor

Cash incentive programs that reward schools for high scores on standardized tests create a growing gulf between the rich and poor, a new University of Florida study suggests. The research, conducted in Florida, found that each year since such a program began, children who attended schools in affluent districts received increasingly more money each year than students who live in poor areas, a trend that could jeopardize some of the most-needy youngsters’ opportunities for equal education.

From University of Florida :
SCHOOL TEST REWARDS PRODUCE GROWING DISPARITY BETWEEN RICH, POOR

Cash incentive programs that reward schools for high scores on standardized tests create a growing gulf between the rich and poor, a new University of Florida study suggests.

The research, conducted in Florida, found that each year since such a program began, children who attended schools in affluent districts received increasingly more money each year than students who live in poor areas, a trend that could jeopardize some of the most-needy youngsters’ opportunities for equal education, said Brian K. Marchman, who conducted the research for his doctoral dissertation in educational leadership, policy and foundations.

”We’re finding out that schools tend to be a function of the neighborhoods in which they’re located,” said Marchman, who also is an assistant principal at UF’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School. ”By measuring student performance, what we may be doing is measuring something that we don’t intend to, such as the average wealth of the family in the district.”

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, each state is required to have an assessment mechanism in place to test student performance. In Florida, that tool is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. Because it is one of the first states to award money to schools based on student performance on standardized tests, Florida may serve as an example for other states deciding whether to implement similar programs, Marchman said.

”Since Florida is considered a model for how to use standardized testing to improve not only student performance but teacher performance as well, other states are likely to look at it to see not only the positive effects of greater accountability but also for warnings about possible negative consequences,” he said.

Under the Florida School Recognition Program, adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1997 and put into effect during the 1998-99 school year, schools given a grade of ”A” based on student scores on the FCAT and those that increase their grades by at least one letter as a result of student test scores are eligible for a $100-per-student cash award. These monies can be used for educational equipment, temporary personnel, or faculty and staff bonuses. The reward monies most commonly are used for bonuses, a decision made jointly by school faculties and advisory councils, Marchman said.

The correlation has grown between funding per student and the level of property value for each of Florida’s 67 school districts each year since the program began, he said.

”The gap between property-rich and property-poor school districts has steadily widened as a result of more funds being appropriated to the reward program,” he said.

The number of public schools qualifying for the money grew from 319 the first year to 1,618 in 2002-03 — a more than five-fold increase — while the cash awards rose from $17 million to $138 million, with the wealthiest schools getting the most money, he said.

Marchman analyzed how much the state spends for each student, both with and without the test incentives monies for five years beginning with the1998-99 school year.

He found that the per-student funding average for school districts in the first year was about $4,678 without performance-based funding, compared with $4,690 with it, a difference of nearly $12 per pupil. By 2002-03, the funding average was about $5,139 without it, compared with $5,194 with it, a difference of $55 per pupil.

Marchman determined the difference between rich and poor districts by analyzing local property tax data, using a series of statistical measures common to the field of education finance.

”By giving more resources to one child than another, we are in effect violating the guarantee in the state constitution that says every child has the right to an opportunity for an equal education,” he said. ”If a child lives in Jefferson County, where the schools may not meet the criteria for the money but many of the schools in Palm Beach County do, then a different amount is being spent on a child in one district compared to another simply on the basis of geography.”

One result may be that schools with more money are able to attract better-qualified teachers as the money often is used for faculty bonuses, Marchman said.

”If this program begins to affect the quality of teaching staff at a particular school, it may have an even greater effect on the quality of a school than just the $100 per student,” he said

Marchman said he believes that if such a reward system is imposed at all, a fairer way to award incentives would be to recognize individual teachers for student progress rather than the schools.

”Any system that attaches a single letter grade to a whole school is a misguided one,” he said. ”Doing so may have a stigmatizing effect for those schools and their communities labeled with a poor grade. Even in schools that receive grades of D or F, there are some amazing teachers and some stellar performances, but under the current system these educators are not acknowledged or rewarded in any way.”

Carl Glickman, chairman of the Program for School Improvement at the University of Georgia in Athens, said Marchman’s study clearly shows the correlation between wealth and achievement. ”It is a wake-up call to Florida state government officials to face this reality and do something dramatic about it so all students can indeed receive a high quality education,” he said.


The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.

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