In the News: Education Department Proposes Rules for Judging Schools

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released draft regulations spelling out what states need to do to comply with the accountability provisions of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

As Emma Brown explains in the Washington Post,

The law requires states to continue administering standardized math and reading tests to students in Grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. But it also gave states a new opportunity to include other non-test measures, such as access to advanced coursework and rates of chronic absenteeism, in judging schools.

Under the regulations released Thursday, states would be required to wrap all of those various indicators into one simple rating, such as a letter grade, to provide parents with clear, easy-to-understand information about school performance.

What evidence is there that policies that require states to grade schools have an impact on student learning?

ednext-may2016-blog-bth-accountabilityOne recent study, published in the Winter 2016 issue of Education Next, looks at the impact of the school accountability provisions on long-term student outcomes in Texas. The authors of that study, David J. Deming, Sarah Cohodes, Jennifer Jennings and Christopher Jencks, found mixed effects.

Our 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.

In short, our 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.

One other recent study that examines the impact of school accountability is a brand new study by Marcus Winters that looks at New York City schools. Multiple studies of the Florida accountability system have found that schools in danger of receiving bad grades and facing other sanctions were able to improve their performance.

—Education Next

H/T: @matt_barnum

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