By Ken To, Centre for University and School Partnership, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
A study recently published in Economics of Education Review examined how a teacher incentive program improved the math performance of students in rural China. The authors suggested that because teachers in rural China are evaluated by students’ high school entrance exam scores and the rate of matriculation into academic high schools, they might tend to focus on mid- and high-performing students and neglect the low-achieving students.
With a view to overcoming this, a clustered randomized control trial examined the effectiveness of a modified pay-for-percentile incentive program that granted teachers 60% more pay for improvements in the outcomes of low-achieving fifth graders (E=1,825 students, 52 schools; C=1,964 students, 51 schools). Students’ math performance was assessed by standardized tests before and after the one-year program. The results were as follows:
- After controlling for the teachers’ experience, base salary, and students’ background, the program increased students’ achievement overall by +0.10 SD.
- The effects on low-achieving students were the largest, with a +0.15 SD increase in math scores, while the increases for middle- and high-achieving students were +0.03 SD and +0.10 SD, respectively.
- Students reported that teachers in the schools with the program covered more easy-level and hard-level curriculum contents, had lower teacher absentee rates, and gave more math homework.
The authors concluded that incentive schemes motivated teachers to put more time and effort into promoting students’ outcomes, and such schemes could be modified to address the achievement gaps in primary schools in China.