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How accountability pressure on failing schools affects student achievement

By Hanley Chiang

Abstract

Although an emerging body of evidence has shown that the threat of sanctions on low-performing schools can raise student test scores in the short run, the extent to which these test score improvements are due to schools' manipulation of the accountability system has remained uncertain. In this paper, I provide two new strands of evidence to evaluate the relative importance of educational reforms and gaming behavior in generating test score gains by threatened schools. First, using a regression discontinuity design that exploits Florida's system of imposing sanction threats on the basis of a cutoff level of performance, I estimate medium-run effects on student test scores from having attended a threatened elementary school. Threat-induced math improvements from elementary school largely persist at least through the first 1 to 2 years of middle school, while evidence for persistence of reading improvements is less consistent. Second, I analyze the effects of sanction threats on various features of educational production, and I find that sanction threats raise school spending on instructional technology, curricular development, and teacher training. Both strands of evidence are consistent with a predominant role for educational reforms in generating test score gains by threatened schools.School accountability Sanction threats Low-performing schools School expenditures

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