Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Do You See What I See? the Impact of School Accountability on Parent, Teacher, and Student Perceptions of the School Environment

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Flamingo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Emilyn Ruble Whitesell, Mathematica Policy Research
School accountability systems are designed to hold schools accountable by assessing performance on specific metrics, publishing accountability reports, and often rewarding or sanctioning schools based on performance. New York City (NYC) was an early adopter of letter grade accountability, and from 2007-2013 NYC assigned A-F letter grades to schools. These grades are intended to provide salient information that will help community members better understand school quality, but it is unclear whether accountability letter grades actually affect or change stakeholders’ perceptions of schools. Understanding how accountability influences stakeholders’ views is important for determining how accountability “works.” If school letter grades change stakeholders’ perceptions of their schools, policymakers can be more confident that accountability systems provide useful information to these constituents or induce noticeable changes in school practices.

This paper explores the extent to which NYC’s letter grade accountability system affects parent, teacher, and student perceptions of their schools; in particular, it focuses on agreement about academic expectations and discipline. The analyses address two key research questions: First, does NYC’s accountability system affect parent, teacher, or student perceptions of academic expectations and discipline? Does it improve or worsen perceptions, and is the effect different for parents, teachers, and students? Second, does NYC’s accountability system affect congruence in stakeholder perceptions, both within and between groups? That is, does accountability contribute to a shared understanding of the school environment among parents, teachers, and students?

Though these are essential questions for understanding how accountability systems affect parents, teachers, and students, they have been largely unexplored in previous research. Few studies ask how accountability affects perceptions of schools (e.g., Rockoff & Turner, 2010; Grissom, Nicholson-Crotty, & Harrington, 2014), and no previous research has looked at the impact of accountability on perceptual congruence within schools. By estimating the effect of accountability on between-group congruence (e.g., agreement between parents and teachers) and within-group congruence (e.g., variation in student perceptions), this study provides important information about how a district accountability system affects school climate.

In this study, I use large-scale data from NYC public schools, linking standard administrative records, school letter grades, and responses to the NYC Learning Environment Survey from 2007-2012. Models capitalize on the rollout of accountability across schools over time and changes in specific letter grades received to estimate accountability effects. I use a school-level model to estimate the impact of accountability on within-group congruence, while I use individual-level data to model the “gaps” between stakeholder groups and also to estimate the effects of accountability on parent, teacher, and student perceptions separately.

Overall, I find that being held accountable leads to improved perceptions of the school, with the exception that after accountability, students have lower average reports of their school’s academic expectations. The heterogeneous impact of accountability on different stakeholder groups leads to less between-group congruence, as accountability widens existing gaps between stakeholder groups in the same schools. Finally, I find that accountability increases within-group congruence for parents and teachers, but accountability decreases within-group congruence for students.