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Financial Incentives for High School Grades

January 24, 2008

by Paulina Mis

Close your eyes and imagine it. You’re sitting in math class, struggling to keep your eyes open, calculating how many minutes are left in the day. Then you do some mental math to figure out what percentage of the day has already passed, the only math you plan to do that day.

That is until you're snapped out of you boredom-induced coma by a teacher who tells you that effort pays off, literally. Well it’s not a dream. Some students have been getting paid for good test scores, and the trend is slowly spreading. In a number of Texas schools, students have been receiving money for good scores on A.P. exams, and students in Baltimore will soon be expecting the same rewards.

Through the Advancement Placement Incentive Program (APIP), students can earn a few hundred dollars for scoring well on A.P. exams, between $100 and $500 for scores above a 3. One student earned $700 for the tests he took during his junior and senior years of high school.

According to a study put together by Cornell University’s C. Kirabo Jackson, 41 schools have taken part in the APIP program so far, and 61 schools plan to adopt it by 2008. The report shows that financial incentives have been an effective tool in getting students to work harder in their A.P. classes. Improvements of about 30% on ACT and SAT scores have also been attributed to APIP. 

According to The Baltimore Sun, some Baltimore schools will soon take a similar approach to raising test scores. The Baltimore program will concentrate on improving graduate exams rather than A.P. tests, but the idea is the same; if you do well, you can earn money, up to $110. Like the APIP, the program will focus on assisting and rewarding students who attend low-income, inner-city schools.

Despite positive results and hopes for continued improvements, both programs have been criticized for their approach. Many feel that bribing students into doing well will take away from the purpose of learning and only teach them to expect payoffs for future efforts. More than the Texas program, the Baltimore version has also been criticized for using public funding to pay students. Unlike the Baltimore version, Texas will mostly use money collected from private donations.


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