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

Panel Paper: How Persistent Are Differences in the Academic Effects of Middle Schools?

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:55 AM
Tuttle North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tracey L. Shollenberger, Christopher Jencks and Jared Schachner, Harvard University
Measuring the existence and persistence of school and teacher effects on students’ outcomes has vexed educational researchers and policymakers for decades. Since the 2002 passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), assessing these effects has taken on greater importance, as substantial resources now hinge on how such evaluations are constructed and employed.  In recent years, the methods used to measure teachers’ and schools’ effects—including student growth and value-added models—have become increasingly sophisticated. These improved models enable researchers not only to evaluate the ability of schools and teachers to improve students’ outcomes within a single school year, but to discern how long the school/teacher-induced improvement persists over time.  Previous research has documented that teacher effects on test scores decay rapidly over time.  Little is known, however, about the persistence of school effects on test scores and other academic outcomes.

In this paper, we aim to fill that gap by examining middle schools’ short- and long-term effects on student achievement.  To do so, we utilize an exceptionally rich longitudinal data set that follows a cohort of 125,704 students in Massachusetts who entered 7th grade between 2004 and 2006 as they move from elementary school through secondary school and into college. In the main analyses, we estimate middle schools’ effects on students’ 8th-grade test scores and 10th-grade test scores, net of students’ previous test scores and demographic characteristics (i.e., race, poverty status, immigration status, gender, and age).  We also examine middle schools’ effects on a non-test score outcome: the likelihood of college enrollment.  The results suggest that middle schools’ effects on student achievement, as measured by both test score and college enrollment outcomes, persist in the long-term net of high school effects. In supplemental analyses, we show that the findings are robust to alternative definitions of middle school and to the use of both mathematics and ELA test scores. We conclude that school quality generally, and middle school quality in particular, meaningfully shape students’ long-term educational trajectories.