I suspect many of us were captivated by the decision of the Atlanta judge who sentenced numerous educators to various jail terms for their participation in the cheating scandal. I’m not going to take a position on whether or not teachers and administrators should go to prison in addition to loosing their jobs and most likely being banned from any future in the field.

 What I would like to do this week is explore this case as it relates to two topics I raised in my most recent blogs - Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation and Assessment and Evaluation. What triggered my continued interest was a Washington Post blog by Annie Murphy Paul about this case.  To read the blog, click below. 

 In her blog, she addresses two of the points I made. The first point she raises is the “ pernicious effects of an institutional emphasis on external rewards and punishments.”  She cites psychological research on student academic dishonesty, and suggests that educators in the age of NCLB face the same dilemma as students – “risk honest failure, or succeed by any means necessary.”

 I raised the issue of extrinsic rewards in my blog “I realized that the most powerful single influence enhancing achievement is feedback” John Hattie. Hattie cited research that demonstrated a negative correlation between extrinsic rewards and achievement. Annie Murphy Paul adds two supporting points:

  • Students who are intrinsically motivated are less inclined to cheat
  • Students who are extrinsically rewarded are more inclined to find cheating acceptable and therefore, are more inclined to cheat.

She adds that the research demonstrates that environment impacts the attitudes toward cheating; in other words, it’s not a fixed characteristic. A student may be intrinsically motivated in one class and extrinsically motivated in another class. 

 Now apply this to the situation in Atlanta (and, I’d add, in many locations around the country).  Annie Murphy Paul reports that these educators were promised rewards if their students did well and termination if they did poorly.  Based on the research she cites, as the title of her blog states “Atlanta teachers were offered bonuses for high test scores. Of course they cheated.” 

 Let me be clear.  Just as she states in her blog, I am not excusing what they did.  They had choices to make and chose to cheat.  The point here is that the system in which they worked established these extrinsic rewards, both positive and negative, and created the environment in which “people tend to respond in predictable ways,” according to Paul.

 The second point she makes is that the types of tests we use must be considered.  She doesn’t suggest eliminating testing, recognizing the value of the feedback and accountability standardized, norm-referenced, and state mandated tests provide.  However, she makes the same point Robert Marzano makes in What Works In Schools: Translating Research Into Action, that I referenced in my blog last week, “Feedback, Part Deux.” Tests need to be closely linked to what students are being taught each day.  This statement is completely in line with the numerous Indistar indicators related to the development and use of assessments.  We believe, and the research supports, the value of developing assessments that provide evidence that what is being taught and what is being assessed are aligned.

Furthermore, the environment created by the school and in each classroom will go a long way toward determining if the students find intrinsic reward from learning the material or the new skills. If students are motivated by the joy of learning and do well on these assessments, teachers will have the satisfaction of knowing they did their job well.  The challenge for educators (teachers and administrators at all levels) is navigating these challenging waters of high-stakes testing linked to teacher and administrator accountability.  If states, districts, schools, and classrooms can create environments and assessment and accountability systems that encourage intrinsic motivation, everyone will win!

  •  What is being done in your state, district, school, or classroom to create the environment that supports intrinsic motivation and reward?
  •  Can you identify the extrinsic motivators that are impacting your administrators, teachers, and students?
  •  Do you have the ability to minimize the negative impact of any extrinsic rewards and punishments? If so, what are you doing that others can learn from?

 We’re interested in what is happening in your classrooms, schools, districts, or state to develop this kind of formative assessment system and provide powerful feedback. Remember, there are a few ways to engage with the IndistarConnect community, as long as you are a member and you have signed in:

1   You can write a comment at the bottom of the blog.

2   You can respond in the Your Reflections or Share Your Stuff tabs at the top of the page. When you open either tab, click the blue plus (+) sign at the top right of the screen.  Then create a title, write your comment in the text box, select or enter a “Tag” to identify what your topic is about, and then press the red “Publish” button at the bottom.  It’s that easy!

We hope to hear from you.




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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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