A new study out from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that there may, in fact, be some upside to No Child Left Behind’s much-maligned accountability system.
Under the law, Adequate Year Progress, or AYP, required states to increase the number of students rated proficient on state tests each year, with the goal of reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2014. The law established tiered consequences for states that failed to meet the yearly proficiency goals, increasing in severity each subsequent year a school missed its target.
The accountability system, policy experts argue, is largely responsible for the law’s most negative consequence: Allowing states to “dummy down” their academic standards so that more students could be classified as proficient each year. And the burdensome consequences associated with not meeting AYP are what drove the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to offer states waivers from the law, at least in part.
But as it turns out, Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor, the research team behind the new study, found that some of AYP’s sanctions actually proved beneficial.
The duo, which analyzed student-level data from the North Carolina public school system, found the early, more lenient sanctions for schools that initially failed to meet AYP—such as simply being slapped with the failing label or allowing students to transfer out of the school—positively impacted performance.
The intermediate interventions for schools that failed to meet AYP for a couple of years in a row, such a mandatory tutoring for low-income students, had no demonstrable effect.
However, leadership and management changes associated with school restructuring— one of the most onerous sanctions for schools that chronically failed to meet AYP— yielded the most positive impact from schools.
“Interestingly, the rhetoric around NCLB —that the law is broken, failed, and ineffective—masks the fact that nearly all of the research says otherwise,” said Anne Hyslop, a senior education analyst at Bellwether Education Partners.
“NCLB worked,” she said. “Maybe not to the extent policymakers would have liked—no state reached 100 percent proficiency—but the evidence shows that NCLB-style accountability has improved student achievement.”
The study also showed that low-performing students gained the most from the sanctions, though there was zero evidence that low-performing students gained anything from another one of the most severe sanctions that deprives high-performing students of resources.
The overall results are modest, but you can dig into the numbers and the entire study here.
Hyslop also pointed out that the study mirrors a report unveiled by the same researchers last year through the American Enterprise Institute.
“What this [new] study adds to the literature,” she said, “is that certain sanctions, especially restructuring, worked to spur modest improvements in schools.”