Merit pay doesn’t cause teachers to teach to the test, study finds – The Washington Post


An experiment in which high school teachers were paid more based on their students’ test results suggests that the bonuses didn’t simply lead teachers to teach to the test, undermining one of the main objections to basing teacher compensation on test scores.

The study does not conclusively answer why merit-pay programs seem not to have worked in the United States, however. Nor does it solve a crucial puzzle in public education: whether there is a better way to pay teachers, and if so, what it is.

A study based on new data from the experiment, conducted 14 years ago in about 100 middle-of-the-road Israeli schools, appears to be the first of its kind — examining the consequences of an alternative model of teacher compensation over the long term. Victor Lavy, the author and an economist at the University of Warwick, found that those students whose teachers were were paid more didn’t just score higher on the tests. They went on to complete more years of postsecondary education and to earn more than their peers whose teachers were paid conventionally.

Those results suggest that the teachers provided the students with knowledge or habits that served them well later on life, rather than just, say, teaching them when to guess on a multiple-choice question.

“There is a big concern about whether teachers behave strategically and they only manipulate the test-taking skills of students,” Lavy said. “You don’t care per se about test scores.”