Year Two Evaluation of the Achievement Challenge Pilot Project in the Little Rock Public School District

Christina Hentges

Gary Ritter, Marc Holley, Nathan Jensen, Brent Riffel, Marcus Winters, Joshua Barnett, and Jay Greene
January 2008

Little Rock was an early adopter of merit pay for teachers, and it looks like the gamble is paying off. Researchers reviewed student data for the five schools participating in the Achievement Challenge Pilot Project (ACPP) and found students at these merit-pay schools outperformed peers in other schools in math, reading, and language. These gains were also true for minority and low-income students, quelling fears that merit pay would steer teachers away from the traditional underperformers. The data are straightforward, but the perceptions of ACPP teachers are less so. On the whole, teachers didn't characterize themselves as being more innovative or working harder after the ACPP began. (That's too bad.) Nor did they perceive internal competition, increased negativity, or neglect of low-performing pupils (possible side effects commonly cited by critics of merit-pay plans). (That, of course, is good.) But it leaves us wondering: what, then, caused those test scores to rise? Maybe it wasn't the merit pay program after all--or perhaps the teachers aren't being straight with the researchers--or even themselves--about their reaction to the new incentives. This is an area worthy of much more research. Check out the study here.