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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Groton School Bribes Test Takers with Tech Toys

The KELO headline catches my eye: "Groton Uses Laptops to Improve Test Scores." I've discussed previously the mixed evidence on whether laptop computer improve test scores. Might Groton have evidence that computers are boosting their kids performance?

Not quite. The Groton school district didn't study student computer usage and find that prior use of technology boosted academic performance. No, this story is about good old bribery: study hard, kids, and we'll give you prizes:

To motivate the students to do their best on the Dakota STEP and not just race to get it done, the school announced last year that students could win a lap top if they did well.

"I think it's going to be awesome if I do win it because it'd be so cool if I had a laptop. It'd be awesome," Jennifer Fjelstad said.

Each class has a performance goal on the test. If the class reaches its goal, every student in it gets their name in the drawing. If the students individually achieve a proficient score or higher, they get their name in the drawing again.

"They're all excited and all of them have that chance so what greater way to motivate them," 4th grade teacher Joel Guthmiller said [Erich Schaffhauser, "Groton Uses Laptops to Improve Test Scores," KELOLand.com, 2010.09.09].

What greater way to motivate... oh, I don't know, maybe by creating a learning culture in which excellence is its own reward, where kids learn to do the right thing because it's right, not because they'll get stuff?

Of course, the awards aren't even guaranteed to go to the kids who actually worked hard. Suppose a student who usually slacks off in class was induced by the promise of prizes to bust her chops and boost her score up to "Proficient" instead of her usual "Basic." She still has no more chance of getting a reward than the smarty-pants in the front row who could have aced the tests but goofed off and marked just enough bubbles to get "Proficient" instead of the "Advanced" that reflects his true abilities.

Principal Dalchow at Groton Elementary notes that the prizes aren't just laptops. Students apparently can win either a laptop or an iPod Touch. Believe it or not iPods can be used for educational purposes.

The school and parents spent time holding fundraisers to pay for the prizes, so apparently no tax dollars were used in the bribing of your children. But I would ask Groton parents and teachers to calculate the time and resources expended on this bribe program. Then calculate how well those resources might have been used for other projects that could raise test scores, like, oh, say, actually teaching.

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