School Accountability and Teacher Mobility

Featured in print Digest

Teachers are 6.5 percent less likely to leave their schools when accountability grades unexpectedly move upward.

Since 1999, Florida schools have been graded "A" through "F" using a combination of aggregate test-score levels from statewide tests administered in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10. In 2002, the accountability grades began incorporating test-score data from grades 3 through 10, as well as measures of the year-to-year progress of individual students.

In School Accountability and Teacher Mobility (NBER Working Paper No. 16070), co-authors Li Feng, David Figlio, and Tim Sass observe that the new grading system reclassified many schools, delivering what they term an accountability "shock." Overall, the new system improved accountability grades in 42 percent of schools, and delivered lower grades in 9 percent of schools. Combining the grading changes from the accountability "shock" with data from Florida's K-20 Education Data Warehouse -- a database covering all Florida public school students and school employees from pre-school through college -- they are able to estimate the effect of accountability measurement on teacher decisions to change jobs.

The researchers find that teachers are 6.5 percent less likely to leave their schools when accountability grades unexpectedly move upward. Teachers in schools that experienced an unexpected drop into the failing category were 42 percent more likely to leave their school, and were 67 percent more likely to move to another school in the same district than teachers in schools whose grades were unaffected by the accountability grading change.

When the authors restrict their sample to math teachers, and to measured teacher quality in terms of a teacher's estimated contribution to student math test scores, they find that the accountability shock changed the distribution of teacher quality both within and across schools.

Schools with constant accountability grades experienced no change in the quality of teachers that left the school or who stayed in it. Schools that were "shocked" downward -- and thus faced the most pressure to improve -- lost more and higher quality teachers. However, the downwardly shocked schools also exhibited an increase in the average quality of the teachers who stayed. The authors suggest that the remaining teachers may work harder, or have their productivity raised by the increased resources, such as reading coaches, that are routinely made available to failing schools.

-- Linda Gorman