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Published in Print: October 11, 2000, as Most Calif. Schools To Get Cash For Meeting Test Targets

Most Calif. Schools To Get Cash For Meeting Test Targets

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As many as two-thirds of California's public schools met targets for raising achievement-test scores over the past year, a feat that will earn the schools and their employees a share of at least $577 million under a new reward system, state education officials announced last week.

Teachers didn't learn last week whether they had hit it big, however, because the announcement of who will get additional bonuses of up to $25,000 will not come for another two months.

Under the new state reward programs, school progress was gauged by California's Academic Performance Index, part of the 1999 law setting up a statewide accountability system. The index uses results from the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition to rank schools on a scale of 200 to 1,000, from worst to best.

Last year, schools got a baseline score, and a school's improvement target was set at 5 percent of the difference between the school's baseline number and the statewide performance target of 800.

Schools that already had 800 points on the index had to improve by at least 1 point to get rewards. All other schools had to meet their improvement targets. To be put on the list for the two awards announced last week, schools needed not only to meet the schoolwide target with overall scores, but also to show the same improvement for minority and poor students.

State schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin said it was "especially good news" that, for the first time, "we are able to financially reward schools for their efforts."

Nationally, the rewards are being closely watched because of California's size and the amount of its investment.

"It's a classic case of rewarding success and letting local people figure out how to get it," said Brian M. Stecher, a senior social scientist with the RAND Corp., a Santa Monica-based research organization. Last month, the state notified 51 schools, out of 8,000 statewide, that they would be excluded from the index because teachers may have cheated to raise test scores. Hundreds of other schools have also been temporarily left off the index because of miscoded demographic data.

Three Programs

To qualify for the rewards, elementary and middle schools must test at least 95 percent of their students, while high schools must test at least 90 percent.

The rewards come from three programs. One program, with a current pot of $227 million, rewards an entire school with an amount based on its number of pupils. The money, expected to be between $70 and $150 per pupil, is to be used for academic improvement.

A second program, set to bestow one-time bonuses this year only, will distribute $350 million more to the same schools, though half the amount would be divided among all staff members. Full-time staff members can expect about $750 a piece, and a matching amount would go to the school as a whole.

For example, under those two programs, an elementary school with 400 students and 30 staff members could get as much as $124,000 to spend on school improvement when the checks arrive in January.

The third program, which state officials intend to continue in future years, is the most controversial because it will award relatively large bonus checks to less than 1 percent of the state's 300,000 teachers. But teachers will not hear until December who gets that money.

Under the program, 1,000 teachers in schools that started out in the bottom half of the index and made the greatest gains over the past year will get $25,000 each. Up to 3,750 teachers in such schools showing the next-largest gains will get $10,000 each; and up to 7,500 teachers, whose schools made the third-largest improvements, will receive $5,000. The schools will also have to show that they made gains on the tests from 1998 to 1999.

Mr. Stecher of RAND said he was troubled by the "incentive" awards because programs that modestly reward many schools for improvement over several years are most likely to contribute to sustained growth in achievement.

Vol. 20, Issue 6, Page 20

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