Test-based accountability systems have demonstrated little or no effect on learning and weak safeguards against “gaming” the system, concludes a National Academies of Science report.
A committee of education experts analyzed 15 test-based incentive programs, notes Education Week. These included No Child Left Behind, test-based teacher incentive-pay systems in Texas, Chicago, Nashville and elsewhere, high school exit exams in various states, pay-for-scores programs for students in New York City and Coshocton, Ohio and experiments in teacher incentive-pay in India and student and teacher test incentives in Israel and Kenya.
On the whole, the panel found the accountability programs often used assessments too narrow to accurately measure progress on program goals and used rewards or sanctions not directly tied to the people whose behavior the programs wanted to change. Moreover, the programs often had insufficient safeguards and monitoring to prevent students or staff from simply gaming the system to produce high test scores disconnected from the learning the tests were meant to inspire.
Test-based accountability often encourages teaching test-taking strategies or drilling students who are closest to meeting the proficiency cut-score, the report found.
Accountability based on graduation rates encourages schools to push out unsuccessful students, so they can be counted as transfers rather than drop-outs.
High school exit exams have decreased graduation rates by 2 percentage points, the report estimated.
While school test scores have risen under NCLB, student achievement gains have been tiny on NAEP, which schools have no motivation to game.