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


  • Brian A. Jacob


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian A. Jacob, 2002. "Accountability, Incentives and Behavior: The Impact of High-Stakes Testing in the Chicago Public Schools," NBER Working Papers 8968, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8968
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    Cited by:

    1. Jaag, Christian, 2006. "Teacher Incentives," MPRA Paper 340, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Stoddard, Christiana & Kuhn, Peter J., 2004. "Incentives and Effort in the Public Sector: Have U.S. Education Reforms Increased Teachers’ Work Hours?," IZA Discussion Papers 1412, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Deborah Wilson & Bronwyn Croxson & Adele Atkinson, 2004. "“What Gets Measured Gets Done”: Headteachers’ Responses to the English Secondary School," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 04/107, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    4. Paul Glewwe & Nauman Ilias & Michael Kremer, 2010. "Teacher Incentives," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 205-227, July.
    5. Christian Jaag, 2005. "Hidden Teacher Effort in Educational Production: Monitoring vs. Merit Pay," HEW 0503003, EconWPA.
    6. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2007. "Incentives for Managers and Inequality among Workers: Evidence from a Firm-Level Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(2), pages 729-773.
    7. Atif Mian, 2008. "Incentives in Markets, Firms, and Governments," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(2), pages 273-306, October.
    8. Kaoru Nabeshima, 2003. "Raising the quality of secondary education in East Asia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3140, The World Bank.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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