Panel Paper: Is School Accountability Healthy for Students? Evidence from NCLB Implementation Details

Friday, November 9, 2018
8222 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anandita Krishnamachari1, David Martin1, Coady Wing2 and Vivian C. Wong1, (1)University of Virginia, (2)Indiana University

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. There is increasing concern about whether American students have the skills necessary to be successful in school and beyond. Most evaluations of NCLB have focused on the impact that NCLB had on student achievement in reading and math. The most rigorous of these quasi-experimental evaluations found that NCLB had significant effects for math, but not reading (Dee & Jacob, 2011; Wong, Cook, & Steiner, 2015). More recently, researchers have examined the impact of NCLB on students’ non-achievement outcomes. Yin (2009) found that the introduction of accountability policies led to a decrease in female adolescent participation in physical education classes. Holbein and Ladd (2015) found that accountability pressures were related to increased engagement in “risky behaviors”, while Whitney and Candelaria (2017) replicated the Dee and Jacob (2011) analyses with socioemotional outcomes and found no relationship between accountability and students’ socioemotional outcomes. Of these studies and the others that examine the relationship between accountability policies and students’ non-achievement outcomes, only the Yin (2009) and Whitney and Candelaria (2017) studies examine effects of NCLB at the national level. Most importantly, none of these studies examine the effect of accountability stringency on student outcomes.

In this paper, we introduce a new measure for describing the stringency of accountability rules under NCLB across states and years (Wong, Wing, Martin, & Krishnamachari, 2018). Our proposed measure uses simulated AYP failure rates for a fixed sample of schools, thereby ensuring that the measure depends only on state policies, not on characteristics of schools within the state. Using this implementation measure, we are able to describe changes in stringency in AYP policies across time and states, as well as assess the impact of stringency in AYP policy on school and student outcomes. We employ data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (and the Civil Rights Data Collection) to causally link state stringency rates to students’ non-achievement outcomes (exercise, smoking, risky sex, drug use, suspensions and expulsions). Overall, we find that increasing accountability stringency under NCLB did not have a significant impact on any of our outcomes of interest.