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New Study Claims to Show a Positive Correlation Between Merit-Pay and Higher Student Test Scores

A new study claims to show that teacher merit-pay programs can lead to significant increases in student learning and test scores. The findings suggest that incentive-pay motivates educators to improve their instruction.

The Teacher Merit Pay and Student Test Scores: A Meta-Analysis report was published by Lam D. Pham, Tuan D. Nguyen and Matthew Springer of Vanderbilt University. Key findings include higher test scores for students who are taught by teachers that participate in merit-pay programs. The researchers also estimate that students receive an extra 3-4 weeks of schooling from these teachers as opposed to non-incentive salary-based educators.

"The findings suggest that merit pay is having a pretty significant impact on student learning," said study author Matthew G. Springer, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, according to Education Week. "Now we need more research to figure out what an optimal merit-pay program looks like and how it is designed."

However, critics of the study argue that it conflates improvement in student learning outcomes with success on standardized test scores. Consequently, the study may prove that these incentive programs are only truly effective if schools are aiming to teach to the test.

If the findings hold weight, these merit-pay programs could be an attractive model for schools and districts looking to solve their teacher retention issues. It could just as well be useful to help states attract new educators, should they already find themselves in a teacher shortage crisis.

The report strongly suggests that policymakers and researchers take into consideration the "labor market outcomes, especially in the effects of pay incentives on mobility patterns of highly effective teachers and exit decisions of traditionally low-performing teachers," when dissecting the effectiveness of merit-pay programs.

The study raises questions about the effectiveness of merit-pay programs as well as whether or not standardized assessments should be the true measure of academic progress.

Read the full report.

Article by Navindra Persaud, Education World Contributor.


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