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Published in Print: March 5, 2008, as Less Improvement Seen in Secondary Schools Using TAP
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Less Improvement Seen in Secondary Schools Using TAP

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A leading model for professionalizing teaching and changing the way teachers are paid shows uneven capacity for raising student test scores, concludes the first independent examination of the Teacher Advancement Program.

While elementary schools in the program do better than comparison schools, TAP middle and high schools lag behind their non-TAP counterparts in test-score gains, the study says.

The research, presented this week at a conference on teacher pay organized by the National Center on Performance Incentives, based at Vanderbilt University, looked at annual gains in mathematics test scores over four years for about 1,200 schools in two states. Just 28 of those schools were using TAP during the period, which ended in 2006.

As in three earlier studies, TAP elementary schools raised test scores in grades 2-5 more than the comparison schools did, after the researchers controlled for differences in students’ poverty levels and a number of other factors. But in the new research, the same effect did not hold in grades 6-10, where non-TAP schools did better, sometimes markedly so, according to the paper.

Matthew G. Springer, the lead author, said the discrepancy between his research and three earlier studies may have to do with more sophisticated procedures for isolating the effects of TAP from other influences on test-score gains. In particular, schools that choose to enter TAP may share characteristics that help raise test scores independent of any changes the program makes.

Fidelity Effects?

Launched six years ago by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Family Foundation, TAP overhauls the professional life of teachers through intense professional development, career paths, and performance-based compensation. Some 180 schools in more than a dozen states participate, and the program has attracted positive attention as interest in finding new ways of paying teachers has risen.

Almost a quarter of the more than $80 million given out in the past two years by the U.S. Department of Education for experiments with new forms of teacher pay went to TAP projects. The program is both relatively far-reaching and expensive, generally costing at least $400 per student. That has made TAP a tough sell to districts that can’t find extra support.

In addition to raising student achievement, TAP is designed to attract and keep high-quality teachers and improve teaching effectiveness. Those goals were not examined in the study.

“A lot of money is being put into this program, and it’s growing,” said Mr. Springer, the director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn. “Past research shows the program is effective, but maybe things can be learned, such as how much implementation fidelity” plays a role in results, he said.

Teacher Isolation

The Teacher Advancement Program is put into effect with considerable local leeway, which means the degree to which the program matches the model developed by what is now the National Institute for Excellence in Education varies.

Proponents of the program say they suspect divergence from the model cut into gains that might have been made in middle and high schools.

“We know there are some issues,” said Tamara W. Schiff, a senior vice president of the institute. “It’s tougher to implement TAP at the secondary level. There aren’t the assessments developed; the culture is different.” Teachers in secondary schools tend to be isolated by subject and are not as accustomed as elementary teachers to working together on improving their teaching techniques, she said.

Ms. Schiff also noted that the sample size of schools using TAP is small. “We still contend there are a lot of benefits that will play out,” she said, adding that she welcomed further research.

Vol. 27, Issue 26, Page 9

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The earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the launch date for the Teacher Advancement Program. It should have said it was launched in 1999. In addition, we incorrectly identified the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

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