Motivating 12th Graders to Ace NAEP: Try Prom Tickets

By Catherine Gewertz — November 18, 2010 1 min read
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The question of whether 12th graders’ performance on NAEP sags because they just don’t care has hung on for quite a while now. (Those of you who missed our story on today’s NAEP results, check here.) The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, is grappling actively with what to do about it.

But what came out, intriguingly, during today’s press calls about the latest results, is that schools, with NAGB’s blessing, are actually offering stuff to seniors to “motivate” them to do better on the famed exam known as “the nation’s report card.”

Yup. That’s what I said. They’re giving them stuff. Think tickets to the prom. A coveted parking space in the school parking lot.

Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees NAEP, mentioned this in conference calls with reporters when she was asked about new “motivational materials” for the 2009 NAEP.

“We had a cadre of strategies we used to motivate” the seniors, she said. It was pretty much “anything that the school administration wanted to offer that was motivating.” She mentioned prom tickets and parking spots.

I asked whether the federal agencies are considering attaching stakes to the 12th grade NAEP to see whether that encourages students to try harder. Carr said that NCES is interested in working with states to embed items in higher-stakes state tests.

I got to wondering about the effect that prom tickets and such might have on a senior’s performance on NAEP, so I asked a 17-year-old senior I know. And if her response is any indication, the schools might well be wasting their goody bags.

Would she try hard on a national test that had no personal consequences for her or her school?

“To be honest,” she said, “I would put zero effort into a test like that. I have way more important things, stuff that really matters to me, that I have to pay attention to.”

What about if she could win a spot in the school parking lot if she did well on the test?

“Well,” she said, “maybe I’d try a little harder, but really, I don’t think it would make much of a difference.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.