Creative incentives boost student test scores

In the era of “No Child Left Behind,” student performance scores have determined whether the guillotine falls upon their school’s teachers, principals or even entire school districts.

Ironically, the students who determine this fate have little stake in these performance tests — that is, unless you’re at one of the schools that offer incentives for their kids to do well. Like dance cruises. Bumped up grades.

Or having your principal get tatted up with whatever the hell you want.

Two years ago, the students of Mission High School were allowed to earn any reward they wanted if their tests scores improved. They wanted their principal to get a tattoo of the school’s mascot. And they won the deal.

Now every year, Principal Eric Guthertz (who now sports the school’s bear mascot on his left arm) lets students choose their prize for raised test scores in the math, English, science and social sciences areas that they are tested on. Last year, all 900 students received a gourmet cooked meal from top-rated local chefs.

“We’ve had a 97-point gain in three years,” Guthertz said. “I’m not saying the incentives are responsible for that, but they help, and they’re fun.”

At O’Connell High School, students who do well on their tests in a certain subject receive an additional boost in their grades. For example, a B could become an A, and even a failing F could be turned into a C.

“The message that we’re sending to kids is, it’s important to do well on these tests, because that’s how the community is judging us,” said Sally Jenkins-Stevens, an O’Connell math coach.

The next round of testing will be this month’s California Standards Test, which tests students from grades 2-11 in a series of multiple choice questions.