De Soto High waves carrot to raise scores
Principal defends school’s use of rewards program in testing
De Soto High School Principal Dave Morford is refilling his prescription for his students this year. The medicine: the "Rewards and Consequences" program for state assessment performance.
The program rewards students who do well on state assessments with extra class points, a free day out of school, a chance to leave school early and the biggest prize, no final in the tested area. Students who don't perform well on the state assessments will be required to enroll in "Essential" classes to bring them up to the proficient level.
"It's kind of like medicine," Morford said. "When your doctor diagnoses something that needs to change they may give you a medication, and for some people that medication may work perfectly with no side effects," he said. "For some it will have a few side effects, and for some it may not work at all.
"Last year we found something that we prescribed and worked really well."
In 2006, 48.4 percent of De Soto High School students met or were above standards in math and 74.5 percent met or were above standards in reading.
"We thought we needed some motivation for kids to try their best on the tests."
The motivation, in conjunction with teachers' efforts to prepare students for the tests, worked. Last year 83.3 percent of students scored proficient or above in math and 92.2 percent scored proficient or above in reading.
"It was well accepted and the kids liked it," Morford said. "When you have goals and you try to set goals for people if they know what their rewards are, they are going to try their best."
Morford said he knows there are those who criticize offering rewards for students who perform well.
"I understand the argument and I understand people saying that, but I know what has worked for us, too," he said.
Douglas Glasnapp, co-director of the Center of Educational Research and Testing at Kansas University, said it's good test-taking strategy to encourage students to do well.
"If, in fact, incentives such as this will cause individuals who otherwise will not make their best effort to do so, then I don't see anything wrong with it," he said. "If you don't provide the climate for students to try to do their best then you are really disadvantaging yourself."
Stephen Benton, chair of the Department of Special Education, Counseling and Student Affairs at Kansas State University, said he didn't see a problem with offering rewards for state assessment performance.
"Extrinsic rewards are really only a problem if the behavior you are trying to increase is already intrinsically motivated," he said. "From a psychological perspective, providing some kind of extrinsic reward isn't a problem because I don't think they are very motivated.
"Students who are already intrinsically motivated to do well probably aren't going to benefit much from the day off."
Eudora High School students also receive incentives for doing well on state assessments.
Eudora High Principal Dale Sample said the school has had the rewards in place since the 2003-04 school year.
"Since we have put these in we have hit the state Standards of Excellence every year in math and reading," he said. "There is something to be said about high school kids and motivation on standardized tests. If they can actually see a benefit for them by doing their best or at least trying, I think you can see them come to the forefront and at least try to do their best."
Mill Valley High School, the other high school in De Soto USD 232, is not offering incentives for state assessment tests.
In Shawnee Mission USD 512, schools focus on positively preparing students for assessments, communications director Leigh Anne Neal said. She said schools encourage students to get rest, eat breakfast and do their best.
"Some of our schools have assemblies to ready students for (testing) as well as to celebrate their collective efforts," she said.
Morford said he has had questions from other educators about De Soto High's incentives and he knows some schools are considering offering incentives for their students as well.
Morford said he has presented the incentive program at two state conferences and will present it to a national conference this month.