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Texas program sees gains in student achievement, teacher retention

by Dec. 7, 2010, 3:11 PM

Student achievement improved and teacher turnover declined in schools participating in the Texas state-funded District Awards for Teacher Excellence (D.A.T.E.) program, the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University has found.

“Our findings suggest that, more often than not, participants in the D.A.T.E. program had a positive experience and that student achievement gains and teacher turnover moved in a generally desirable direction,” Matthew Springer, director of NCPI and lead author of the report, said.

D.A.T.E. is a state-funded program that provides grants to school districts in Texas to implement locally designed incentive pay plans. About half of the teachers at eligible campuses received a D.A.T.E. incentive award of at least $1,000.

The findings come at a relevant time for Texas and for national teacher pay policy. The Texas state legislature will soon convene to consider the future direction of D.A.T.E., while at the same time Texas and various districts within the state have recently received federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants.

Lower teacher turnover rates

Overall, D.A.T.E.-participating districts saw bigger declines in teacher turnover than other Texas districts during the program’s first year. Additionally, the probability of turnover surged among teachers who did not receive a D.A.T.E. award, while it fell sharply among teachers who did receive one.

“Teachers who received a D.A.T.E. award were much less likely to turn over than those who did not, and the size of the award received by a teacher was less important than the fact that the teacher received any award at all,” Lori Taylor, associate professor at Texas A&M University and co-author of the report, said.

During the first two years of the D.A.T.E. program, students in D.A.T.E. schools had greater achievement gains than those in non-D.A.T.E. schools. Additionally, the gap in passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills reading and math tests between D.A.T.E. and non-D.A.T.E. schools generally declined over time, with D.A.T.E. schools catching up to the non-participating schools.

Teachers in D.A.T.E. schools also held relatively positive views of the incentive pay plans operating in their schools.  “More often than not, teachers believed the incentive pay plans were fair and the goals targeted by the plans were acceptable,” Springer said.

There are important limitations to consider about the evaluation’s findings.  “Since districts and schools select themselves into the D.A.T.E. program,” Springer said, “we can never fully rule out the possibility that differences in the characteristics of participants and nonparticipants may have affected outcomes for students and teachers independent from participation in D.A.T.E.”

Texas’ D.A.T.E. program and NCPI’s evaluation of the program were implemented in a notably different manner than the Nashville incentive pay program experiment conducted by NCPI, the results of which were released in September. Those results found that rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, did not raise student test scores.

D.A.T.E. incentive pay plans were first implemented during the 2008-09 school year. The program is currently in its third year of operation with approximately $197 million in annual state funding. Districts voluntarily participating in Cycle 1 serve 2.4 million students, which is nearly 50 percent of all Texas students.

NCPI conducted the D.A.T.E. program evaluation under contract with the Texas Education Agency. Researchers from Texas A&M University, University of Missouri-Columbia and Corporation for Public School Education K-16 were key collaborators on the report.

The National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University was created in 2006 with a five-year, $10 million grant from the United States Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. For more information on the National Center on Performance Incentives and to view a full copy of the report, visit A full copy of the report also is posted at

Springer is assistant professor of public policy and education.

For more information about Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, visit For more Vanderbilt news, visit