A large number of schools participating in a pay-for-grades program have seen test scores in reading and math go up by almost 40 percentage points. The Sparks program will pay seventh-graders up to $500 and fourth-graders as much as $250 for good performance on 10 assessment tests. About two-thirds of the 59 schools in the program improved their scores by margins above the citywide average. "It's an ego booster in terms of self-worth. When they get the checks, there's that competitiveness -- 'Oh, I'm going to get more money than you next time' -- so it's something that excites them," said Rose Marie Mills, principal at MS 343 in Mott Haven. Critics, who are unaware that most college students don't become liberal arts majors, argue that paying kids corrupts the notion of learning for education's sake alone.