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Left Behind By Design: Proficiency Counts and Test-Based Accountability

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  • Derek Neal
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Abstract

Many test-based accountability systems, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), place great weight on the numbers of students who score at or above specified proficiency levels in various subjects. Accountability systems based on these metrics often provide incentives for teachers and principals to target children near current proficiency levels for extra attention, but these same systems provide weak incentives to devote extra attention to students who are clearly proficient already or who have little chance of becoming proficient in the near term. We show based on fifth grade test scores from the Chicago Public Schools that both the introduction of NCLB in 2002 and the introduction of similar district level reforms in 1996 generated noteworthy increases in reading and math scores among students in the middle of the achievement distribution. Nonetheless, the least academically advantaged students in Chicago did not score higher in math or reading following the introduction of accountability, and we find only mixed evidence of score gains among the most advantaged students. A large existing literature argues that accountability systems built around standardized tests greatly affect the amount of time that teachers devote to different topics. Our results for fifth graders in Chicago, as well as related results for sixth graders after the 1996 reform, suggest that the choice of the proficiency standard in such accountability systems determines the amount of time that teachers devote to students of different ability levels.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13293.

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Date of creation: Aug 2007
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13293

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  1. Becker, W. & Rosen, S., 1990. "The Learning Effect Of Assessment And Evaluation In High School," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 90-7, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
  2. Daniel M. Koretz, 2002. "Limitations in the Use of Achievement Tests as Measures of Educators' Productivity," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 37(4), pages 752-777.
  3. Eric A. Hanushek & Margaret E. Raymond, 2005. "Does school accountability lead to improved student performance?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(2), pages 297-327.
  4. Jacob, Brian A., 2005. "Accountability, incentives and behavior: the impact of high-stakes testing in the Chicago Public Schools," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 761-796, June.
  5. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 841-64, October.
  6. Burgess, Simon & Propper, Carol & Slater, Helen & Wilson, Deborah, 2005. "Who wins and who loses from school accountability? The distribution of educational gain in English secondary schools," CEPR Discussion Papers 5248, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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Cited by:
  1. Marcelin Joanis, 2009. "Sharing the blame? Local electoral accountability and centralized school finance in California," Working Papers 2009/33, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
  2. Oster, Emily, 2009. "Does increased access increase equality? Gender and child health investments in India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(1), pages 62-76, May.
  3. Alejandra Mizala & Miguel Urquiola, 2007. "School Markets: The Impact of Information Approximating Schools' Effectiveness," NBER Working Papers 13676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Victor Lavy, 2009. "Performance Pay and Teachers' Effort, Productivity, and Grading Ethics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 1979-2011, December.
  5. Carolyn J. Heinrich & Gerald Marschke, 2010. "Incentives and their dynamics in public sector performance management systems," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(1), pages 183-208.
  6. Alejandra Mizala & Miguel Urquiola, 2007. "Parental choice and school markets: The impact of information approximating school effectiveness," Documentos de Trabajo 239, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
  7. Robertson, Erin, 2011. "The effects of quarter of birth on academic outcomes at the elementary school level," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 300-311, April.
  8. Burgess, Simon & Wilson, Deborah & Worth, Jack, 2013. "A natural experiment in school accountability: The impact of school performance information on pupil progress," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 57-67.

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