Study shows incentives improve test scores

June 26, 2012 at 2:37 PM
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CHICAGO, June 26 (UPI) -- A University of Chicago study indicates standardized test scores improve if students are offered rewards just before testing and receive them immediately after.

The University of Chicago studied 7,000 students in Chicago-area schools from 2010 to 2011 and found students who can see their incentive during testing and receive it immediately after improve their scores by six months, the University of Chicago said in a press release.

The researchers gave students short diagnostic tests in math and English three times a year. Students were not told of their rewards until the day of the test. Researchers used money to incentivize older students and non-financial incentives to reward younger students. The study found students who could see money or a trophy while they tested scored better.

No margin of error was given.

"At Bloom Township High School, when we offered students $20 incentives, we found that their scores were 0.12 to 0.2 standard deviation points [five to six months in improved performance] above what we would otherwise have predicted given their previous test scores," lead author Sally Sadoff said.

The study shows immediate rewards improve test scores more effectively than long-term rewards.

"The effect of timing of payoffs provides insights into the crux of the education problem that we face with our urban youth," the study reports. "Effort is far removed from the payout of rewards, making it difficult for students to connect them in a useful way. The failure to recognize this connection potentially leads to dramatic under-investment."

The study's findings are reported in, "The Behaviorist Goes to School: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Educational Performance." The research was funded by the Children First Fund, the Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation, the Rauner Family Foundation and the Spencer Foundation.

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