the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement. The best available estimate suggests a decrease of 2 percentage points when averaged over the population. In contrast, several experiments with providing incentives for graduation in the form of rewards, while keeping graduation standards constant, suggest that such incentives might be used to increase high school completion.
The modest and variable benefits shown by test-based incentive programs to date suggest that such programs should be used with caution and that substantial further research is required to understand how they can be used successfully.
Recommendation 1: Despite using them for several decades, policy makers and educators do not yet know how to use test-based incentives to consistently generate positive effects on achievement and to improve education. Policy makers should support the development and evaluation of promising new models that use test-based incentives in more sophisticated ways as one aspect of a richer accountability and improvement process. However, the modest success of incentive programs to date means that all use of test-based incentives should be carefully studied to help determine which forms of incentives are successful in education and which are not. Continued experimentation with test-based incentives should not displace investment in the development of other aspects of the education system that are important complements to the incentives themselves and likely to be necessary for incentives to be effective in improving education.
Recommendation 2: Policy makers and researchers should design and evaluate new test-based incentive programs in ways that provide information about alternative approaches to incentives and accountability. This should include exploration of the effects of key features suggested by basic research, such as who is targeted for incentives; what performance measures are used; what consequences are attached to the performance measures and how frequently they are used; what additional support and options are provided to schools, teachers, and students in their efforts to improve; and how incentives are framed and communicated. Choices among the options for some or all of