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Accountability in Education

School Accountability and Teacher Turnover

How do teachers respond to the pressures of school accountability? To find out, IPR education economist David Figlio and his colleagues examine whether Florida’s changes to accountability measures affected teachers’ decisions to leave their schools. In 2002, the state introduced new standards for grading its schools. As a result, half of the schools received grades that differed, sometimes sharply, from those they had gotten previously. Some schools received a higher grade than they would have earned under the old system, and others received a lower grade. Teachers’ decisions to stay at their schools were unaffected in schools that would have received an “A,” “B,” or “C” grade under the original system. However, teacher turnover at schools that would have earned a “D” under the old system but received an “F” under the new accountability measures was 4–7 percentage points higher than the baseline rate. Teachers rated as above average were more likely to leave unless reforms such as smaller class sizes were made in the failing schools. Figlio is the Orrington Lunt Professor and Dean of the School of Education and Social Policy.

School Policies Unevenly Implemented

In 2002, the Florida legislature implemented rules that require students who do not meet a test of grade-level reading skills to repeat third grade. The policy includes certain exemptions for students that allow them to continue to fourth grade. Figlio, the Orrington Lunt Professor, with former IPR graduate research assistant Christina LiCalsi and Umut Özek, who are both at the American Institutes for Research, investigate whether the retention rule was applied to all children whose test scores fell below the cutoff, or if some children received exemptions based on their socioeconomic (SES) background. A good indicator of higher SES—maternal education level—is recorded in the state’s birth records data, which the researchers matched to school records. The researchers determine that the grade retention policy is, in fact, not enforced equally. Among the students who scored just below the reading-level cutoff, those whose mothers had not graduated from high school were 14 percent more likely to be retained than children whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree or more. The ability of more highly educated mothers to know how to apply for exemptions and how to deal with school personnel most likely leads to the discrepancy in applying the retention rule, the researchers suggest. Since evidence shows that grade retention of lower-SES children might be harmful, it could be that Florida’s test-based promotion policy might be harming, not helping, these students. The study was published in Education Finance and Policy and received funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

How Math Teachers Assess Their Colleagues

How do teachers assess who is a good math teacher? Education professor and IPR associate James Spillane and his co-authors conducted surveys and compiled test-score data to learn how teachers judge their colleagues’ performance in math instruction and whether student test scores figure in their judgments. The researchers also asked if the highest performing teachers, as measured by student math test scores, were more likely to be asked for advice by their colleagues. The researchers found that teachers used direct and indirect knowledge of their colleagues’ abilities, knowledge, and formal training in math instruction to assess others’ performance. Teachers did not consider student test data a good measure, even though the school district studied made special efforts to ensure that such data were available. The researchers also discovered that teachers whose performance was ranked highly by their students’ standardized math test scores were more likely to seek advice from colleagues rather than their colleagues asking them for advice. The findings suggest that school districts can encourage teachers to interact more with their high-performing peers, but teachers’ skepticism about using test scores to gauge teaching expertise means relying on student test data as the only measure of their competence is not enough. Spillane is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change.