Incentive Effects New York's Minimum Competency Exams
John H. Bishop
Rovira I Virgili University
Educational reformers and the majority of the American public believe that teachers ask too little of their pupils. African-American and Hispanic parents, in particular, criticize the low expectations and goals that teachers and school administrators often set for their children. These low expectations, they believe, result in watered-down curricula and a tolerance of mediocre teaching and inappropriate student behavior. The result is that the prophecy of low achievement becomes self-fulfilling.
The problem of low expectations is not limited to minority students or lower income communities; it's endemic. High school subjects are taught at vastly different levels, and yet research has shown that learning gains are substantially larger when students take more demanding courses. Controlling for teacher qualifications and student ability and socioeconomic status (SES) does not significantly reduce the positive effects of course rigor on test-score gains (Bishop, 1996b; Kulik & Kulik, 1984; Monk, 1994). Why then do students not flock to more demanding courses? First, these courses are considerably more work and grades tend to be lower. Second, the rigor of these courses is not well signaled to parents, neighbors, employers, and colleges, so the rewards for the extra work are small for most students. Admissions staff of selective colleges learn how to read the transcripts of the high schools