Economist faults tying merit pay to tests

April 6, 2011 at 3:59 PM
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CHICAGO, April 6 (UPI) -- A professor of economics at the University of Chicago says tying teacher merit pay in the United States to student test scores is unlikely to improve education.

Derek Neal's paper, "The Design of Performance Pay in Education," was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Neal argues that at least some teachers will try to improve their pay by becoming what amounts to test coaches, using classroom time mainly to drill students. A few will even cheat, correcting answer sheets to improve scores.

When that happens, the tests cease to work as measures of student achievement or teacher competence.

"As long as education authorities keep trying to accomplish both of these tasks (measurement and incentive provisions) with one set of assessments, they will continue to fail at both tasks," he wrote.

Neal said the use of high-stakes testing can also induce teachers to leave schools where most of the students come from poor families. Other districts set the bar so high for merit bonuses that teachers simply give up.

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