Cramming: The Effects of School Accountability on College-Bound Students
This paper is the first to explore the effects of school accountability systems on high-achieving students' long-term performance. Using exceptional data from a large highly-selective state university, we relate school accountability pressure in high school to a student's university-level grades and study habits. We exploit a change in the state's accountability system in 1999 that led to some schools becoming newlythreatened by accountability pressure and others becoming newly-unthreatened to identify the effects of accountability pressure. We find that an accountability system based on a low-level test of basic skills apparently led to generally reduced performance by high-achieving students, while an accountability system based on a more challenging criterion-referenced exam apparently led to improved performance in college on mathematics and other technical subjects. Both types of systems are associated with increased "cramming" by students in college. The results indicate that the nature of an accountability system can influence its effectiveness.
The authors are grateful to the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development and the National Science Foundation for financial support, and to an anonymous university for access to its admission, registrar and course download records. Thanks to Chris Avery, Sunny Ladd, Kim Rueben, and seminar participants at the London School of Economics, Russell Sage Foundation, Texas A&M University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Kentucky, University of Miami, University of Oxford, University of Virginia, NBER Education Program Meeting, and (UK) Institute of Fiscal Studies as well as the SEA and NTA meetings for helpful comments. All errors or omissions are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.