Why Students Are Being Rewarded For AP Tests

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2 min read

Do well on an Advanced Placement exam, and receive $100.

That’s exactly what South High Community School in New York does for its students, according to an article in the New York Times. Teachers whose students do well also receive bonuses.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) funds the incentives at South High Community School and all the other schools that participate in this program. It pays each student who scores a 3 or above (high enough to earn college credit) on the math or science A.P. exam $100. Teachers’ incentives are not as straightforward and are based on the percentage of their students that pass the exam.

More than half of the 1,853 teachers who participated in this initiative last year earned bonuses of at least $2,000. The largest reward was $12,500.

The national program is still growing, and its goal is to increase the number of A.P. exams being taken. In just over three years, this initiative increased exams to 38,000 annually. Roughly 308 schools in six states are participating by rewarding their students and teachers with monetary benefits.

However, there has been a lot of debate about whether this program actually improves students’ and teachers’ motivation. Rewarding people with exterior motives – like cash – can diminish intrinsic motivation. In this case, students only want to do well on the test so they can get that $100, not because it is truly important to them.

Roland G. Fryer, a Harvard economist, who won a MacArthur Foundation award for his research on educational incentives, said that a cash incentive cannot consistently increase students’ performance. Under this initiative, students can be motivated to perform better on the A.P. exam; however, that motivation will not translate to the classroom or other tests.

This takes the intrinsic motivation away from students. However, Fryer did say that combining payments with tutoring, teacher training and other tactics could be promising and provide more consistent motivation.

The College Board, the administrator of the A.P. program, endorses the math and science initiative that rewards students’ and teachers’ performance with cash benefits.

Some academics, however, are expressing concerns that the A.P. program is getting too large. They say too many unprepared students are taking – and failing – the A.P. classes/exams. They argue that this program is only making that problem worse.

At most schools, students have to test into A.P. classes; however, the standards are becoming more lax. Some schools do not have entrance tests, and students only have to sign up.

But, others claim that more students are now passing the exam and getting a head start on college, which could decrease dropout rates and improve students’ success in college. They argue that students should always be persuaded to take the hardest classes, even if that means failing. This will, at the very least, prepare students for college-level classes.