Do teacher pay incentives improve pupil test scores?

A meta-analysis published in the American Educational Research Journal looks at the association between teacher pay incentives and pupils’ test scores, and suggests that teacher pay incentives have the potential to improve pupil test scores in some contexts.

Lam D Pham and colleagues analysed effect sizes across 37 studies, 26 of which were conducted in the US. To be included in the meta-analysis, studies had to include a sample comprising teachers and pupils in K-12 education (Year 1 to Year 13) located in a school district or area that had a teacher pay incentive programme. Studies also had to use a randomised controlled trial with a business-as-usual comparison group, and report on pupil outcomes on standardised tests.

Overall, among the US-based studies, the effect of teacher pay incentives on pupil test scores was positive (effect size +0.04), however, this varied across subjects and settings. The average effect size of pay incentives on pupils’ maths test scores (+0.05) was larger than the effect on English test scores (+0.03). Pay incentives for elementary (primary) school teachers were associated with larger effects (+0.10) than middle school teachers (+0.01). In addition, larger pay incentives, and pay incentives that are based on multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, were associated with larger effect sizes.

Source: Teacher merit pay: A meta-analysis (February 2020), American Educational Research Journal

Strategies to promote teacher effectiveness

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new evaluation brief that synthesises findings from two impact studies conducted by the National Center for Education Evaluation (NCEE). One study focused on a strategy of providing teachers  with feedback on their performance for two years (performance feedback), and the other study focused on a strategy of providing teachers with bonuses for four years based on their performance (pay-for-performance). Both strategies were supported by the Teacher Incentive Fund, which provided competitive grants to help US states and districts implement a multi-strategy approach to enhancing teacher effectiveness.

In each study, elementary and middle schools (primary schools) were randomly assigned to implement the strategy (the treatment group) or not (the control group). The performance feedback study included approximately 29,000 pupils and 1,000 teachers in grades 4–8, while the pay-for-performance study included approximately 38,000 pupils and 3,500 teachers in grades 3–8. Pupil outcomes were measured using end-of-year reading and maths scores.

Key findings were as follows:

  • Providing teachers with feedback on their performance for two years improved pupils’ maths achievement after the first year with a difference in scores that corresponds to an effect size of +0.05. The cumulative effect after two years of implementation was similar in magnitude but not statistically significant. The effect on reading in both years was positive but not statistically significant.
  • Providing teachers with bonuses based on their performance for four years improved pupils’ reading achievement after one, two and three years of implementation and pupils’ maths achievement after three years. After each of those periods of implementation, the effect size was +0.04 for reading and +0.06 for maths. However, as noted in the evaluation report, the impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools, as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

The brief was prepared for NCEE by Andrew Wayne and Michael Garet of American Institutes for Research and Alison Wellington and Hanley Chiang of Mathematica Policy Research.

Source: Promoting educator effectiveness: the effects of two key strategies (March 2018), National Center for Education Evaluation, The Institute of Education Sciences

What is the impact of pay-for-performance?

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants were awarded in 2010 by the US Department of Education to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

In order to assess the impacts of pay-for-performance on educator (teachers and principals) and pupil outcomes, an experimental study design was used in ten US school districts to randomly assign elementary and middle schools to treatment and control groups. Both groups implemented the same performance-based compensation system, but in the control schools, the pay-for-performance element was replaced by a one percent bonus paid to all teachers and principals regardless of performance. A fourth and final report from this evaluation has now been published, covering all four years of the programme (between 2011 and 2015).

Among the key findings are that pay-for-performance had small, positive impacts on pupil achievement by the second year of implementation. From that year onward, reading and maths achievement was higher by 1 to 2 percentile points in schools that offered performance bonuses than in schools that did not. However, it was not entirely clear how this improvement was achieved. The impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

Source: Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Final report on implementation and impacts of pay-for-performance across four years (NCEE 2017-4004),(December 2017), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.