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Accountability, Incentives and Behavior: The Impact of High-Stakes Testing in the Chicago Public Schools

  • Brian A. Jacob
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    The recent federal education bill, No Child Left Behind, requires states to test students in grades three to eight each year, and to judge school performance on the basis of these test scores. While intended to maximize student learning, there is little empirical evidence about the effectiveness of such policies. This study examines the impact of an accountability policy implemented in the Chicago Public Schools in 1996-97. Using a panel of student-level, administrative data, I find that math and reading achievement increased sharply following the introduction of the accountability policy, in comparison to both prior achievement trends in the district and to changes experienced by other large, urban districts in the mid-west. I demonstrate that these gains were driven largely by increases in test-specific skills and student effort, and did not lead to comparable gains on a state-administered, low-stakes exam. I also find that teachers responded strategically to the incentives along a variety of dimensions -- by increasing special education placements, preemptively retaining students and substituting away from low-stakes subjects like science and social studies.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8968.

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    Date of creation: May 2002
    Date of revision:
    Publication status: published as Jacob, Brian A. "Accountability, Incentives And Behavior: The Impact Of High-Stakes Testing In The Chicago Public Schools," Journal of Public Economics, 2005, v89(5-6,Jun), 761-796.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8968
    Note: CH ED
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    1. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2002. "The Cost of Accountability," NBER Working Papers 8855, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Randall Reback & Julie Berry Cullen, 2006. "Tinkering toward accolades: School gaming under a performance accountability system," Working Papers 0601, Barnard College, Department of Economics.
    3. Ladd, Helen F., 1999. "The Dallas school accountability and incentive program: an evaluation of its impacts on student outcomes," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 1-16, February.
    4. Hanushek, Eric A., 2006. "School Resources," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
    5. Ashenfelter, Orley C, 1978. "Estimating the Effect of Training Programs on Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 60(1), pages 47-57, February.
    6. David N. Figlio & Lawrence S. Getzler, 2002. "Accountability , Ability and Disability: Gaming the System," NBER Working Papers 9307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Alan B. Krueger, 2003. "Economic Considerations and Class Size," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(485), pages F34-F63, February.
    8. Figlio, David N. & Winicki, Joshua, 2005. "Food for thought: the effects of school accountability plans on school nutrition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(2-3), pages 381-394, February.
    9. Brian A. Jacob & Lars Lefgren, 2002. "The Impact of Teacher Training on Student Achievement: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from School Reform Efforts in Chicago," NBER Working Papers 8916, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Brian A. Jacob & Lars Lefgren, 2004. "Remedial Education and Student Achievement: A Regression-Discontinuity Analysis," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(1), pages 226-244, February.
    11. Richards, Craig E. & Sheu, Tian Ming, 1992. "The South Carolina school incentive reward program: A policy analysis," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 71-86, March.
    12. Eric A. Hanushek & John F. Kain & Steven G. Rivkin, 1998. "Does Special Education Raise Academic Achievement for Students with Disabilities?," NBER Working Papers 6690, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Levitt, Steven D., 2002. "Rotten Apples: An Investigation of the Prevalence and Predictors of Teacher Cheating," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt2wj7v1j4, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
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