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ERIC Number: EJ1084026
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016
Pages: 6
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-1539-9664
When Does Accountability Work? Texas System Had Mixed Effects on College Graduation Rates and Future Earnings
Deming, David J.; Cohodes, Sarah; Jennings, Jennifer; Jencks, Christopher
Education Next, v16 n1 p71-76 Win 2016
When congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), standardized testing in public schools became the law of the land. The ambitious legislation identified test-based accountability as the key to improving schools and, by extension, the long-term prospects of American schoolchildren. Thirteen years later, the debate over the federal mandate still simmers. NCLB required that states test students in math and reading each year, that average student performance be publicized for every school, and that schools with persistently low test scores face an escalating series of sanctions. There is now ample evidence that these requirements have caused test scores to rise across the country. What is not known is: Do these improvements on high-stakes tests represent real learning gains? And do they make students better off in the long run? In fact, very little is known about the impact of test-based accountability on students' later success. If academic gains do not translate into a better future, why keep testing? In this study, the authors present the first evidence of how accountability pressure on schools influences students' long-term outcomes. They do so by examining how the test-based accountability system introduced in Texas in 1993 affected students' college enrollment and completion rates and their earnings as adults. Though the Texas system predates NCLB, it was implemented under then governor George W. Bush and it served as a blueprint for the federal legislation he signed as president nearly a decade later. More important, it was implemented long enough ago to allow us to investigate its impact on adult outcomes, since individuals who were in high school in the mid- to late 1990s have now reached adulthood. The analysis reveals that pressure on schools to avoid a low performance rating led low-scoring students to score significantly higher on a high-stakes math exam in 10th grade. These students were also more likely to accumulate significantly more math credits and to graduate from high school on time. Later in life, they were more likely to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and they had higher earnings at age 25. Those positive outcomes are not observed, however, among students in schools facing a different kind of accountability pressure. Higher-performing schools facing pressure to achieve favorable recognition appear to have responded primarily by finding ways to exempt their low-scoring students from counting toward the school's results. Years later, these students were less likely to have completed college and they earned less. The results indicate that school accountability in Texas led to long-term gains for students who attended schools that were at risk of falling below a minimum performance standard. Efforts to use high-stakes tests to regulate school quality at a higher level, however, did not benefit students and may have led schools to adopt strategies that caused long-term harm.
Hoover Institution. Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Tel: 800-935-2882; Fax: 650-723-8626; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Texas
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: No Child Left Behind Act 2001