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AP monetary incentives?

By Martin Van Swol
web posted October 4, 2010

According to a news story out of Texas some school districts in the state, funded by private organizations, are beginning to pay students to do well on AP exams. Is this a good incentive? I believe that it is for three reasons. The first reason is that money has always worked well as an incentive no matter the task. The second reason is that these incentives are currently working and seem to be helping students study more. The final reason is that students are able to immediately see the efforts of their hard work and put more money toward college.

Working in a non air-conditioned kitchen is less than enjoyable. This summer I did just that; it was hard, hot, and grueling work. One day, when all of us were working in 85 degree heat, our boss walked into the kitchen and told us that if we were able to finish cleaning up before 8 PM, we would all get five dollars. Of course, we finished at 7:55 PM. The idea of gaining something more, something extra, something green, was what motivated us to work harder. The working conditions were the same and it was still 85 degrees, but money drove us to finish the work more quickly, something that we would have previously thought to be an impossible task. The same is true for students with AP exams. Students may be hard workers in hard classes and really want to do well on these exams, but giving them money, something to look forward to, is a true motivator.

The second reason is that this reward system is presently working. An AP chemistry teacher was interviewed and he said, "The one hundred dollar incentive works really well…" This teacher goes on to say that the one hundred dollar incentive helps students create good study habits and come to after school study groups. According to one website, the number of students that were able to obtain college credit shot up by 40% from 2002-2006, and the number of students taking AP exams grew by 50%! Kirabio Jackson, who is assistant professor of labor economics at Cornell University, did a study on these cash incentives. His study showed that they did indeed improve test scores slowly, but surely. Clearly this monetary incentive is working to encourage students not only to take AP classes and AP exams, but to create good study habits that will help them through college.

Mowing the grass with a hand-mower is really no fun while you're mowing, but after you are done, you are able to immediately see the reward of your hard work; a cleanly and beautifully mowed lawn. This is the same with the monetary incentives. Students who have taken the AP exams are able to see the rewards for their labor for even as juniors and sophomores in high school, who may not see the college credit benefit for a couple of years. But, for seniors, this money has been also found to be very useful.  Israel Ruiz, who was a former AP student said, "That's the biggest thing. Books are pretty expensive in college. Having $200 to put toward your first semester of books would be fantastic." This young man knows what it means to use his resources well.  Although this quote does not show that every student uses this money for college, it does show that some students use this money for future educational expenses. One mother also pointed out that when the student receives the money, it gives the parents an opportunity to teach their kids how to use their money wisely. This indicates that the incentive program works by showing kids immediate results of their work and by giving money to future college students.

In conclusion, the rewarding of money for passing AP exams is a good incentive for three reasons. First, even hard and seemingly impossible tasks are quickly made feasible by adding the incentive of money. Next, according to different studies, these incentives are slowly bringing up AP test grades, test takers, and improving study habits. Lastly, the money was a very useful and immediate way for the student to see their hard work, use the money for educational purposes, and learn life lessons. I believe this idea of paying students to score well is a brilliant idea that actually works. I hope to see more schools in the future using this creative system. ESR

This is Martin Van Swol's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2010 Martin Van Swol.

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