Raising more than test scores: A new study examines the "no excuses" Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago

Kevin Hesla

A new article by Matthew Davis of the University of Pennsylvania and Blake Heller of Harvard University entitled “Raising More than Test Scores” looks at the long-term outcomes of attending the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. Founded in 1999, Noble Street Charter School has since expanded to a network of sixteen high schools serving more than 11,000 students. Noble’s schools largely serve low-income and minority students: 98 percent of students are minorities and 89 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The authors set out to answer the following questions: Do “no excuses” charter high schools merely help students succeed on standardized tests? Or are their students more likely to succeed after they leave school behind? And are their results due to test prep or true learning?

Using experimental and nonexperimental approaches, the authors find that attending one of Noble’s schools has a significant and positive impact on ACT scores, high school graduation, college enrollment, college quality, and college persistence:

  • Noble students enter high school with slightly lower test performance than the average Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student. However, by eleventh grade, Noble students score markedly higher than the CPS average (and the charter average) on all sections of the ACT.
  • Noble students were also more likely to earn a high school diploma. Students entering ninth grade at a Noble campus were 21 percentage points more likely to graduate within five years of enrollment than their peers in traditional public schools.
  • Enrolling in Noble increased college enrollment by 13 percentage points. This increase in college enrollment did not come at the expense of college quality.
  • Noble students were 15 percentage points more likely to attend a four-year school and 14 percentage points more likely to attend a college where the median two-subject SAT score was above 1,000 (increases of 46 and 66 percent, respectively).
  • In college, Noble students were 17 percentage points more likely to persist for two semesters or more and 12 percentage points more likely to persist for four semesters or more.

Noble’s schools follow key practices and principles typically associated with the no-excuses approach: frequent teacher feedback, data-driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations. All students are expected to take college entrance exams and win acceptance to college. Acceptances are celebrated publicly—and counselors assist students in applying for grants and scholarships. Over the course of the study, Noble students spent 18 percent more time in school than their peers in CPS—amounting to an additional 858 hours over four years (or nearly three-quarters of a year of additional instruction time).

The results of this analysis demonstrate that “no excuses” models can have a meaningful impact on long-term student outcomes and on the economic vitality of the communities in which they reside. While additional research is needed on other “no excuses” networks in other states and communities, these results are extremely positive and should add to the healthy dialogue surrounding this model. Further, this research is another piece of evidence that demonstrates that charter schools can have a meaningful and long-term impact on students—especially low-income students of color. Although “no excuses” models remain somewhat controversial due to their rigor and uncompromising standards, their ability to change the entire trajectory of a young life cannot and should not be ignored.

Kevin Hesla is the Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.