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Financing Test Scores

Here's a new take on performance pay: New York City is toying with the idea of paying students cash for scoring well on standardized tests. Harvard economist Roland Fryer has concocted a program that would reward fourth-grade students on a pay scale of $5 to $25 based on their standardized test scores; seventh-grade students would stand to gain anywhere from $5 to $50. The reward plan, which would be funded by private donors, is receiving support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several local principals. “If we aren’t looking at everything, shame on us,” said Mayor Bloomberg, who has supported cash incentive programs for low-income parents in the past. Not everyone is on board, however. “We are troubled by additional pressure being placed on children to achieve perfection,” said Ernest Logan, president of the principals’ union. “What really matters in education is continued student progress, not perfect test scores.” Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, countered by saying that the reward would provide needed incentive to some students: “Good students get [their] motivation from somewhere—from peers, their parents, how they’re raised—but the kids who are unmotivated have a very hard time understanding that what they do today pays off decades from now.” Education Department spokeswoman Debra Wexler said that the program is “still at a preliminary stage.”

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