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The Promise and Pitfalls of Using Imprecise School Accountability Measures

  • Thomas J. Kane
  • Douglas O. Staiger

In recent years, most states have constructed elaborate accountability systems using school-level test scores. However, because the median elementary school contains only 69 children per grade level, such measures are quite imprecise. We evaluate the implications for school accountability systems. For instance, rewards or sanctions for schools with scores at either extreme primarily affect small schools and provide weak incentives to large ones. Nevertheless, we conclude that accountability systems may be worthwhile. Even in states with aggressive financial incentives, the marginal reward to schools for raising student performance is a small fraction of the potential labor market value for students.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 16 (2002)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 91-114

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:16:y:2002:i:4:p:91-114
Note: DOI: 10.1257/089533002320950993
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  1. Neal, Derek A & Johnson, William R, 1996. "The Role of Premarket Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 869-95, October.
  2. Baker, George P, 1992. "Incentive Contracts and Performance Measurement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 598-614, June.
  3. Nina Pavcnik, 2002. "Trade Liberalization, Exit, and Productivity Improvements: Evidence from Chilean Plants," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 245-276.
  4. Alan B. Krueger, 2000. "Economic Considerations and class size," Working Papers 975, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
  5. 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.
  6. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Frank Levy, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 5076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Thomas J. Kane & Douglas O. Staiger, 2001. "Improving School Accountability Measures," NBER Working Papers 8156, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Sandra E. Black, 1999. "Do Better Schools Matter? Parental Valuation Of Elementary Education," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(2), pages 577-599, May.
  9. Lavy, Victor, 2003. "Paying for Performance: The Effect of Teachers' Financial Incentives on Students' Scholastic Outcomes," CEPR Discussion Papers 3862, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Robert Gibbons, 1998. "Incentives in Organizations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(4), pages 115-132, Fall.
  11. James R. Tybout, 2001. "Plant- and Firm-Level Evidence on "New" Trade Theories," NBER Working Papers 8418, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Victor Lavy, 2002. "Evaluating the Effect of Teachers' Group Performance Incentives on Pupil Achievement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(6), pages 1286-1317, December.
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