Panel Paper: The Impact of NCLB Waiver Focus School Reforms on Achievement Gaps: Evidence from Kentucky

Thursday, November 3, 2016 : 8:55 AM
Columbia 3 (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sade Bonilla and Thomas Dee, Stanford University

The introduction of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers in 2011 by the Department of Education required states to implement redesigned accountability systems concentrating on schools contributing to achievement gaps. States had significant leeway in meeting the waiver requirements. In this study, we focus on the experience of Kentucky Focus Schools. Kentucky introduced a “super subgroup” in their accountability system, combining traditionally low-performing subgroups into an umbrella group to maximize the number of schools held accountable under the new system. Our research provides additional insight into how specific design elements compel school action. Kentucky identified schools based on the performance of student subgroups and whether their performance fell below an arbitrary threshold. Treatment schools concentrated on particular groups of students and content areas where students were relatively low performing. The multiple treatment assignment procedure allows us to utilize a frontier regression-discontinuity (FRD) design to examine whether schools facing incentives to increase student performance at these different margins are able to deliver. The strong causal warrant of a FRD allows us to delineate how an ambitious, but poorly funded set of reforms affect student outcomes in a reform-oriented high-capacity state. We find that the effect of classification into Focus School status resulted in an 8-12 percent increase in student proficiency rates in reading and a 15-18 percent increase in math proficiency. Moreover, these gains are distributed across the achievement distribution and do not appear to be the result of enrollment changes or other strategic behaviors. We also use results from a statewide teacher survey on professional development and instructional practices and find that teachers at Focus Schools report higher levels of quality professional development.