K-12 Accountability Under NCLB and Beyond: Empirical Evidence and Directions for Evidence-Based Policy
Friday, November 13, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Flamingo (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Panel Organizers: Vivian C. Wong, University of Virginia
Panel Chairs: Thomas Dee, Stanford University
Discussants: Christina LiCalsi-Labelle, American Institutes for Research
Although education reform has remained at the forefront of the domestic policy agenda in the United States, there is little consensus on the policy levers that are likely to be most effective in promoting school performance and student learning. Reform initiatives at federal and state levels over the last two decades have focused on holding schools “accountable” for student outcomes. In 2002, the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act established a regime of public reporting of every public school’s level of student proficiency in math and reading as measured by standardized assessments, along with automatic sanctions for failure to achieve test-score targets. Critics and proponents of the law were quick to respond, with some decrying it as punitive and too narrowly focused on test scores while others applauded its focus on improving outcomes for disadvantaged students.
More than a decade later, the US is at a crossroads for accountability in education policy. The Obama Administration was critical of some elements of NCLB, but its policies endorsed high-stakes testing and even expanded the scope of the stakes. With the Race to the Top and an NCLB waiver process, the administration doubled down on using student test results for high stakes purposes, making not only schools but also individual teachers and principals accountable for student achievement growth. As Congress now considers the re-authorization of NCLB, evidence on the effects of various kinds of accountability can be used to promote evidence-based policy.
This panel focuses on states’, schools’, and stakeholders’ responses to accountability pressures in schools and in other contexts, and considers how lessons from these responses may inform the design of new accountability policies. The first paper (Wong, Wing, and Martin) describes variations in states’ responses to NCLB during the pre-waiver period, and how schools responded to differences in policies. The paper introduces a new quantitative measure for describing states’ stringency in accountability. The paper shows how this measure may be used to causally identify school and student responses to state policies. The second paper (Whitesell) explores the extent to which New York City’s letter-grade accountability system affects stakeholder perceptions of the city’s schools. In particular, the paper looks at parent, teacher, and student responses to schools under the local accountability policy, and focuses on stakeholder agreement about academic expectations and discipline within schools. Finally, Gill, Lerner, and Meosky explore the extensive experimental literature in behavioral science on the effects of different forms of accountability, considering implications for the design of accountability policies for schooling. They conclude that an effective K-12 accountability regime will involve (1) multiple forms of accountability; (2) multiple measures of educational practice and educational outcomes; and (3) feedback mechanisms to promote the improvement of practice. Thomas D. Cook, a co-author of a recent paper evaluating the effects of NCLB on student outcomes, discusses the papers presented in this panel. Tom Dee is the panel chair.