be investigated. As a result, we recommend that policy makers continue to support the development of new approaches to test-based incentives but with a realistic understanding of the limited knowledge about how to design such programs so that they will be effective.

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.

It is only by continuing to conduct careful research about test-based incentive programs that it will be possible to understand how they can be more effectively designed. The small or nonexistent benefits that have been demonstrated to date suggest that incentives need to be carefully designed and combined with other elements of the educational system to be effective. Much additional work will be required to learn whether and how test-based incentives can be used to produce consistent improvements in education. The available evidence does not justify a single-minded focus on test-based incentives as a primary tool of education policy without a complementary focus on other aspects of the system.


The general lack of guidance coming from existing studies of test-based incentive programs in education suggests that future policy experimentation with test-based incentives should be guided by the key contrasts that emerge from basic research about how incentives operate.

Recommendation 2: Policy makers and researchers should design and evaluate new test-based incentive programs in ways that provide information about alternative approaches to incen-

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