NCPI Completes Evaluation of Texas Incentive Pay Programs

In recent years, Texas has invested significant dollars into the design, implementation, and evaluation of several incentive pay programs for educators. NCPI has led a team of researchers to evaluate all three of the state’s 21st century incentive pay programs, with the final evaluation recently published.

“District Awards for Teacher Excellence (D.A.T.E.) Program: Final Evaluation Report”, released in December 2010, found that at least the first two years of the program were tied to promising outcomes for students and teachers in Texas public schools.

Generally, researchers found a positive, statistically significant, but quantitatively small relationship between D.A.T.E. participation and average student achievement gains. Districts participating in the D.A.T.E. program also saw bigger declines in teacher turnover and evidence suggests that educators generally had a positive attitude about participating in the program. NCPI’s report evaluated data from districts and schools that participated in the D.A.T.E. program from 2008-2010, which was Cycle 1 of the program.

While overall outcomes were promising, there was notable variation among D.A.T.E. districts and schools, prompting evaluators to understand how the design features of incentive pay plans might have influenced student achievement gains, teacher turnover, as well as teacher attitudes. While no one type of incentive plan emerged as the universally promising approach, several themes related to incentive pay design choices did arise. Typically, but not universally, larger award amounts for teachers and greater expectancy among teachers for actually receiving awards were associated with more desirable outcomes. The way in which teachers’ award eligibility was determined had a significant influence on several outcomes as well, but not always in a clear direction.

The D.A.T.E. program currently stands as the sole state-funded incentive pay program in Texas. However, D.A.T.E.’s first year of implementation in 2008-09 occurred at a time when Texas was operating several state incentive pay programs. The three-year Governor’s Educator Excellence Grant (G.E.E.G.) program was coming to its expected completion, while the Texas Educator Excellence Grant (T.E.E.G.) program was in its third year of operation. During the 2008-09 school year, these programs dedicated a combined $247 million. However, the Texas Legislature opted not to reauthorize T.E.E.G. during the 2009 session, redirecting a portion of its funds to expand the D.A.T.E. program from approximately $150 million to $197 million annually starting with the 2009-10 school year.

Although D.A.T.E. was a continuation of state-funded incentive pay programs, it was designed in a manner quite distinct from its G.E.E.G. and T.E.E.G. predecessors. Most notably, D.A.T.E. provided grants at the district level (as opposed to the school level), grants were available to all districts (as opposed to limiting participation to only high-performing, high-poverty grantees), and grantees had more flexibility in how they used funds (only 60% as opposed to 75% of the grant had to be used as incentive awards to teachers). Unlike T.E.E.G. grants – which were provided to schools on a year-by-year basis – D.A.T.E. grants were continuous for districts, meaning they did not face the possibility of losing state grant funds after implementing an incentive pay program for only one year.

NCPI led evaluations of the G.E.E.G. and T.E.E.G. programs as well, which also looked at how schools designed and implemented incentive pay plans and the outcomes for students and teachers. Similar to D.A.T.E. evaluation findings, educators participating in G.E.E.G. and T.E.E.G. had generally positive attitudes about the program and researchers found that – as with D.A.T.E. – teacher turnover decreased among educators actually receiving incentive awards. Evidence about the impact of G.E.E.G. and T.E.E.G. on student achievement gains was, however, inconclusive.

In summary, the objective of the Texas evaluations has not been to recommend any one-size-fits-all approach for design and implementation of incentive pay in Texas. Rather, the evaluations inform policymakers about the implications of various program design and implementation choices. The findings should be stimulus for continued study among the research community and examination by the policy community as to the impact of incentive pay design.

NCPI conducted the D.A.T.E., G.E.E.G., and T.E.E.G. evaluations under contract with the Texas Education Agency. Scholars from Texas A&M University, University of Missouri-Columbia, the RAND Corporation, and the Corporation for Public School Education K-16 were key collaborators.

To learn more about NCPI’s work in Texas, including technical reports and policy briefs, click here.