international comparative tests that became available in the late 1990s and 2000s.

This report does not attempt to provide a detailed history of the growing use of explicit incentives that are attached to tests. Rather, it reviews what social and behavioral scientists have learned about motivation and incentives over the same period that test-based incentives have spread. In response to the charge to the committee, the goal of the report is to inform education policy makers about the use of such incentives and to recommend ways that their use in test-based accountability systems can be improved.


The Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education was established by the National Research Council (NRC) with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The committee’s charge was to review and synthesize research about how incentives affect behavior that would have implications for educational accountability systems that attach incentives to test results.

The project originated in the recognition that there is important research about what happens when incentives are attached to measures of performance. Much of this research has been conducted outside the field of education and so is unlikely to be familiar to education policy makers. As they increasingly turn to the use of incentives in test-based accountability systems, their efforts should be informed by the findings from that research.

The goals of the committee’s study are to (1) help identify circumstances in which test-based incentives may have a positive or a negative impact on student learning, (2) recommend ways to improve the use of test-based incentives in current accountability policies, and (3) highlight the most important directions for further research about the use of test-based incentives in education.

In order to make the study feasible, it was necessary for the committee to focus its approach to addressing the charge with respect to how we would consider incentives, accountability, and recent research about the use of test-based incentives in education.

Incentives The committee focused on research related to incentives in which an explicit consequence is attached to a measure of performance. Although it can be difficult in some cases to draw a precise line between consequences that are explicit and those that are not, this rough contrast provided a practical way to focus the study in the current policy envi-

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