Can School Accountability Pressure Help Disadvantaged Students Catch up? Evidence From No Child Left Behind (Job Market Paper)
Though the central goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to close achievement gaps, whether school accountability pressure under NCLB has succeeded in helping disadvantaged students catch up to their more advantaged peers is surprisingly unclear. In this paper, I investigate this fundamental research question and explore potential underlying mechanisms to inform the design of future school accountability policies. I use administrative data from North Carolina and adopt a difference-in-differences strategy. My primary estimation method is proposed by Gardner (2022), and I examine the robustness of the results with other alternative methods. The main threat to the identification is the validity of the parallel-trends assumption; with event study methods, I directly check disparities in pre-trends and find no or minor differences. I find that school accountability pressure in math, measured by a school failure in math, produces significantly larger effects on math z-scores among the traditionally low-performing student subgroups: black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities. Furthermore, I show these larger effects in math among disadvantaged groups are driven by the larger effects among low-performing students and the fact that significantly more students in these disadvantaged groups are low-performing. I find smaller effects of reading accountability pressure on reading z-scores, and the largest effect appears among Hispanic students.