A recent study of the impact of Texas’ public-school accountability system, which served as a model for the federal No Child Left Behind Act, found that it directly contributed to lower graduation rates in the large urban districts examined by creating incentives for schools to welcome the early departure of academically troubled students.
The study, by researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin, found that the loss of growing numbers of students actually led to improvements in how public schools were rated by the state. That’s because most of the students who left schools were low-achieving — and a disproportionate share were black or Hispanic, or spoke English as a second language — which meant that their departure led to an increase in the schools’ average test scores and created the appearance that the school was closing the test-score gap between white and minority students.
As school personnel became increasingly focused on the potential positive or negative impact students would have on their institutions’ ratings, they took steps, such as holding back students, which helped raise test scores but also increased the likelihood the affected students would drop out, the study found.
“High-stakes, test-based accountability doesn’t lead to school improvement or equitable educational possibilities,” Linda McSpadden McNeil, director of the Center for Education at Rice, said in a news release announcing the study’s results. “It leads,” she said, “to avoidable losses of students.”
The news release said the study had “serious implications” for the schools around the nation covered by the No Child Left Behind Act. —Peter Schmidt