consequences to test results. That is the type of test-based incentives that our study examines.
In addition, we note that our literature review is necessarily limited by the types of incentive programs that have been implemented and studied. Given the intense interest in the use of incentives over the past decade, there are incentive programs that are too new to have been evaluated by researchers, and there are interesting proposals for incentive programs that have not yet been implemented. We mention some of these new programs and proposals throughout the report, but we obviously cannot draw any conclusions about their effectiveness at this time.
It has been more than a decade since the landmark National Research Council (1999) report, High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation, was issued. That report contains a number of cautions about the use of student tests for making high-stakes decisions for students, with notable recommendations about the importance of using multiple sources of information for any important decision about students and the necessity of providing adequate instructional support before high-stakes tests are given. High Stakes cited a “strong need for better evidence on the intended benefits and unintended negative consequences of using high-stakes tests to make decisions about individuals,” particularly with respect to evidence about “whether the consequences of a particular test use are educationally beneficial for students—for example, by increasing academic achievement or reducing dropout rates” (p. 8). In the years since High Stakes was published, the use of test-based incentives has continued to grow, and researchers have made important advances in their evaluations of those evaluations. This report looks at what we have learned as a result.
Chapter 2 reviews findings from two complementary areas of research in the behavioral and social sciences about the operation of incentives: theoretical work from economics about using performance-based incentives and experimental results from psychology on motivation and external rewards. Chapter 3 looks at the use of tests as performance measures that have incentives attached to them, considering some key ways the effect of incentives is influenced by the characteristics of the tests and the performance measures that are constructed from test results. Chapter 4 reviews research about the use of test-based incentives within education, specifically looking at accountability policies with consequences for schools, teachers, and students. Chapter 5 concludes with the committee’s recommendations for policy and research.