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High Stakes Testing

Is Earning Money for Test Grades a Good Thing?


In 2001, students at Parrott Middle School and West Hernando Middle School in Hernando County, Florida received money for test scores. Every student in 5th, 8th and 10th grade in the state of Florida are required to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). This high stakes assessment is used to determine numerous things including what 'grade' a school earns and whether students get to graduate with a regular diploma. These two middle schools decided to use money as an incentive to motivate their students on the FCAT. However, many educators, parents and even students question this practice. Is the money a reward or a bribe?

FCAT and High Stakes Testing

The FCAT is an integral part of the State of Florida's System of School Improvement and Accountability. Schools are graded using numerous measures including FCAT scores. A grade of A through F is given to each school. A schools receive a large increase in funding. In principle, this plan is a good way to achieve some semblance of accountability. However, the stakes are so high that many schools take 'desperate' measures to have students show up for the exam and pass the FCAT. (Exam attendance is also counted in the final grade for the school.)

In Florida, schools that receive an A rating are touted by lawmakers, realtors and parents. If an 'A' school were to drop in its grade, not only would funds be cut, but the reputation of the school would also fall. Thus, many 'A' schools stop their normal curriculum and focus on the FCAT. Should these schools be integrating FCAT preparation in the curriculum year round? Of course. However, it is unrealistic to think that every educator out there has rewritten their plans to include activities that mirror the FCAT. Shouldn't the students be prepared through the normal lesson plans? They definitely should. In fact, the test tries to measure if the students have learned necessary skills by 5th, 8th and 10th grade. However, since such high stakes have been associated with the assessment, schools feel it is necessary to spend extra time 'teaching to the test'. When teachers are not integrating the information into the curriculum, students are losing out on important content they should be receiving.

Paying for Test Scores

That brings us back to the case in Hernando County, Florida. Neither school is using tax money, but both schools are paying for performance. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Parrott Middle School is paying students $50 for perfect scores on the reading, writing or math parts of the FCAT. They are also giving $30 awards to students who achieve a lower passing score on the exam. What does the government of Florida think about this? Charlie Crist, at the time Florida's Commissioner of Education told the St. Pete Times, "You know what? I don't have a problem with it, But I'm going through the checklist: It's legal; it's not unethical; it's not taxpayer dollars; it's a local decision. They're being rewarded for doing well." On the other hand, former Governor Jeb Bush believes that it is "the wrong approach."

Should this be the future of learning? Should students be paid for passing exams? Then should they be paid for making good grades or even studying? Interestingly enough, Newt Gingrich's daughter, Jackie Cushman, has helped create a program in Georgia that pays low-income students to go to after-school study sessions. The (probably unrealistic) feelings of this writer is that the test scores and learning should be valuable enough. The pride of passing a difficult exam should be nourished not the need to be rewarded for every action a person takes. Many of the accomplishments we have in life are only rewarded by our own sense of pride in ourselves. If every action has to be taken down to 'what's in it for me' then the world becomes a much sadder, poorer place."

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