Poster Paper: The Impact of NCLB Waivers on Student Achievement Gaps

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Bryant Gregory Hopkins, New York University

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was a far-reaching piece legislation that marked a new era of accountability in the United States. NCLB sanctions created problems for many states and, in 2011, President Obama announced that the US Department of Education would accept waiver proposals that exempted states from the objectives described in AYP plans and the 100% proficiency requirement. By 2014, 42 states and the District of Columbia had obtained waivers. While there were successful attempts at estimating the causal impact of NCLB on achievement during this period, to my knowledge, these efforts did not continue after waivers were finalized. Hence, this paper is the first to answer the following research questions: (1) do school districts increase achievement and reduce achievement gaps under NCLB waivers, (2) is there heterogeneity in effects depending on the timing of waiver approval, and (3) is there heterogeneity in effects given different attributes of NCLB waiver accountability plans?

I answer these questions utilizing data from the Stanford Education Data Archive. These data compile 300 million test scores from 45 million public school students between 2009 and 2015. Math and ELA mean scores are provided across tested grades and racial/ethnic subgroups at both the county and district level. The data also include district-level covariates of socioeconomic, demographic, school, and segregation characteristics. I employ two strategies to estimate the impact of NCLB waivers on mean student achievement and racial/ethnic gaps. First, I utilize a differences-in-differences framework comparing achievement between treatment and comparison states (those who were/were not awarded NCLB waivers). Second, I examine more localized areas of the country and repeat the analysis by selecting pairs of treatment and comparison districts that share a geographic border. The key dependent variable in each estimation strategy is (1) district-level means of academic achievement on either the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or state mathematics and ELA examinations scores for students in grades three through eight or (2) district-level achievement gaps across racial/ethnic groups for the same tests, subjects, and grades. Results are forthcoming.

Understanding the impact of the NCLB waivers is important because the waivers both signal a significant departure from existing policy and arguably mirror the structure of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under the NCLB waivers, schools were still required to administer annual tests to 95% of students in specific elementary, middle, and high school grades and distribute the results of these tests by race, socioeconomic status, and disability. Schools were still held accountable for student performance, but states determined how these systems were structured, how and when testing occurred, and how scores were interpreted (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2011). All of these attributes, along with the increased flexibility to incorporate other measures to assess student performance, were included in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015). In essence, most of the public school population in the United States was already being educated under a system that would become ESSA.