The Impact of Federal Accountability Sanctions on Student Outcome: Evidence from North Carolina

This study aimed to examine the impact of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and state-level accountability sanctions on the academic and behavioral outcomes of students, especially the segment of the population that is traditionally socially, economically, and academically disadvantaged, using regression discontinuity (RD) methods and instrument variable (IV) analysis.

Accountability programs are intended to induce teachers and schools to adopt more effective and efficient means of achieving set educational goals using a system of extrinsic punishments and rewards. In North Carolina, two different accountability systems were jointly adopted in 2002. NCLB focused on punishment for underperforming schools by introducing parental choice, after-school tutoring, or more drastic interventions upon continued failures to meet the set standard. The NC accountability system focused on rewarding teachers for achievement test score improvements through recognition or monetary incentives. We studied which system, if either, produced more significant gains in student learning.

Using a detailed longitudinal administrative data set collected by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (from 1994/95 academic year onward), which collects academic and behavioral information on all students attending public schools and data on their teachers, schools, and districts, along with the many educational policy changes which occurred during the data collection years, the impact on the academic and social development of students in schools was systematically evaluated.

The data was collected into the future, with the quality of data improving yearly. The many anticipated structural changes to come in NCLB as well as the state accountability system will expand our ability to examine the impact of different sanctions on students. By analyzing the relative effectiveness of sanctions to improve achievement, and alter the distribution of achievement gains, we hope to inform future efforts to craft accountability programs.