SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Schools eager to show their smarts or raise money often give students incentives to do well on tests or participate in fundraisers. Many students can earn T-shirts or toys by raising money.
And as STAR testing begins this month, educators across the region will use pep rallies, prizes and candy to pump kids up for the tests.
But recent attempts at two campuses in the Sacramento, Calif., area have left some people wondering: Where is the line between incentive and bribe?
Granite Bay High School teachers told students this week they could retroactively boost their grades in class by doing well on the state's standardized tests this month.
And at Folsom Lake College last week, a professor offered to increase students' grades if they raised money for the college foundation. He rescinded the offer Monday after students and other faculty raised concerns.
"If that's not selling grades, I don't know what is," said Howell Ellerman, a Folsom Lake professor of business and real estate. "There is no effort here other than writing a check."
Bernard Gibson, the professor who offered to raise grades for students who contributed at least $25 to the foundation, did not return calls seeking comment.
But a video of his lecture last Thursday shows Gibson presenting the deal to his marketing class: "If you raise $25 you can get enough extra credit to take you from a C- minus to a C. It can't take you to a B but it could move you within the range of a grade.
"If you raise $50 or more ... you can receive enough extra credit to move you from a C-minus to a B-minus. It actually can move you into the next grade category."
Students responded with many questions, and more than one spoke out against the plan.
"I don't want to burst any bubbles but it kind of reminds me of 500 years ago when the Catholic Church was trying to get everybody to give them money to buy their way into heaven," said a young man with blond hair. "I mean, are we buying a grade?"
Gibson told the class he was simply offering extra-credit related to a lesson on fundraising. But students were clearly upset by the plan, and began to alert college authorities.
By the time his supervisor spoke to him, Gibson had already decided to cancel the extra-credit project, said Susie Williams, a spokeswoman for Los Rios Community College District.
She praised Gibson has an energetic teacher who tries to make lessons "as real-life as possible."
"I think he just misjudged this one," she said.
While Gibson's proposal crossed an ethical line at Folsom Lake College, using grades as an incentive to boost standardized test scores is a small but growing trend at high schools. It's popping up on campuses in Granite Bay, Galt and Crescent City.
Test scores have huge impact on K-12 schools -- shaping their reputation among parents and determining whether they meet state and federal targets.
But -- with the exception of the exit exam, which determines if students can graduate -- they don't have much impact on students. Colleges look at grades but not STAR scores.
Educators complain that some teenagers fill in answer sheets without even reading the test questions.
So Granite Bay teachers crafted an elaborate formula for raising grades based on students' STAR scores. The formula can be found online at www.sacbee.com/links. "The majority of students really, really like it," McGuire said. "The idea came from them."
Not everyone is happy about it, though. Parents whose children already had strong grades are worried that the new scheme will create more competition among students and affect class rankings. And some education experts say it's not right to change grades retroactively.
"The grade one earns in the class happens during the time frame you are studying the subject," said Robert Pritchard, an education professor at California State University, Sacramento. "It's blurring that line that should exist."
State education officials said using STAR scores to determine students' grades is unusual but not unethical. State law allows it, as long as schools tell parents what the tests will be used for, said John Boivin, administrator for the state's STAR office.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.