NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Left Behind By Design: Proficiency Counts and Test-Based Accountability

Derek Neal, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

NBER Working Paper No. 13293
Issued in August 2007
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS

Many test-based accountability systems, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), place great weight on the numbers of students who score at or above specified proficiency levels in various subjects. Accountability systems based on these metrics often provide incentives for teachers and principals to target children near current proficiency levels for extra attention, but these same systems provide weak incentives to devote extra attention to students who are clearly proficient already or who have little chance of becoming proficient in the near term. We show based on fifth grade test scores from the Chicago Public Schools that both the introduction of NCLB in 2002 and the introduction of similar district level reforms in 1996 generated noteworthy increases in reading and math scores among students in the middle of the achievement distribution. Nonetheless, the least academically advantaged students in Chicago did not score higher in math or reading following the introduction of accountability, and we find only mixed evidence of score gains among the most advantaged students. A large existing literature argues that accountability systems built around standardized tests greatly affect the amount of time that teachers devote to different topics. Our results for fifth graders in Chicago, as well as related results for sixth graders after the 1996 reform, suggest that the choice of the proficiency standard in such accountability systems determines the amount of time that teachers devote to students of different ability levels.

download in pdf format
   (299 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13293

Published: Derek Neal & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2010. "Left Behind by Design: Proficiency Counts and Test-Based Accountability," Review of Economics and Statistics, vol 92(2), pages 263-283.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Rouse, Hannaway, Goldhaber, and Figlio w13681 Feeling the Florida Heat? How Low-Performing Schools Respond to Voucher and Accountability Pressure
Jacob w8968 Accountability, Incentives and Behavior: The Impact of High-Stakes Testing in the Chicago Public Schools
Cullen and Reback w12286 Tinkering Toward Accolades: School Gaming Under a Performance Accountability System
Dee and Jacob w15531 The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Student Achievement
Figlio and Getzler w9307 Accountability , Ability and Disability: Gaming the System
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us