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Strategies for State Testing Part Two: Providing Incentives

Strategies for State Testing Part Two: Providing Incentives

One of the most difficult things to do in teaching is getting low-achieving students and struggling learners motivated to take state tests. Often, these groups of students don’t care about the test or the score they earn.

Some states require that students pass the test in order to advance to the next grade, but most states don’t offer motivation for doing so. How then can you get your students interested in doing well on the end-of-year state test?

The Case for Incentives

I’ve found that offering incentives is a great way to get students to care about how well they do. I’ve heard the argument that we shouldn’t offer tangible, concrete incentives for student performance on state tests. That argument has some merit but it’s not realistic or practical.

Incentives are offered for everything in this world. Many business professionals make excellent salaries and then receive large bonuses at the end of the year.  Multi-millionaire athletes have incentives in their contracts because incentives work.

Until students are able to be intrinsically motivated themselves, I see no reason to let them fail to do their best on these examinations.  These tests prepare them for future examinations that will determine the type of life they’ll be able to have.

Appropriate Use of Incentives

Before I give you some examples of incentives that I’ve seen work for students at all levels, I’d like to discuss for what incentives should be given. The following are just a few examples that I’ve personally seen work very well.

Working through the entire test. In the schools I’ve worked with, incentives are given for actions that will help students do well during tests. For instance, give incentives, prizes or the opportunity to win a prize to students that work the entire test time.

One of the biggest enemies of doing well on a test is that students put their head down and go to sleep 15, 20 or 30 minutes into testing. Most of the students will have no chance of doing well when they sleep through the test. Therefore, give an incentive to those students who work through the entire test.

Using mnemonics they’ve learned. Consider giving incentives for using the mnemonics that were taught throughout the year. It’s unfortunate, but often students don’t utilize the tools teachers give them that will help them on standardized tests.

During the year, require students to write out the mnemonics on scratch paper or wherever allowed so that it’ll be automatic for them to do so during state testing. It is critical that students use all legitimate tools at their disposal.

Writing down strategies. Another incentive-worthy behavior is having students write out three main testing strategies they should use during the test. If they have those three strategies written in front of them, there’s a better chance that they will actually use them. An example of such a strategy would be to read the entire set of answers before selecting one.

Other behaviors to reward. There are other important things to give incentives for, such as being present every day for testing review, turning in all makeup work that relates to testing, and any other behaviors that each teacher designates as important for their students.

Ensuring Incentives Are Age-Appropriate

When considering giving incentives, the most important thing is to make sure that they are age-appropriate and things that students would go the extra mile for. The best way to determine what students will work for is to ask the students directly. Put it out in front of the whole class. Ask the question, “What types of things would you like as incentives?”

When dealing with high school students, there are many good options. Examples would be free tickets to dances, sporting events such as home football games, home basketball games, the prom, free parking spaces, etc. Examples of incentives that could be donated by members of the community are gas coupons, tickets to a professional game, tickets to a concert, etc.

At every grade level, consider getting the PTA involved to donate money or items. Items such an as PlayStations, bicycles, skateboards, video games that have been vetted, toys, computers, savings bonds, and grocery store coupons are all great incentives that can be donated to the school and used to get students excited for standardized testing.

Have You Used Incentives for Your Students?

I’ve found that incentivizing state testing is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that all of the hard work done during the year doesn’t go to waste because the students have no motivation to do well.

By using age-appropriate incentives for your students during state testing time, you can motivate and encourage them to do well on the tests. When education is the groundwork for their success in life, teachers can’t afford not to incentivize their students!

About the Author

Larry Bell, a Citadel graduate, is a 30+ year veteran in education. Fifteen of those years were spent as a classroom teacher where he was nominated for the National Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award. As a teacher at Gar-field High School, a school with over 3,000 students speaking 36 different languages, Larry was recognized for his innovative classroom strategies that allowed his so called “Tough Kids” as well as his “Gifted and Talented” to excel!