Manyee Wong, Thomas D. Cook, and Peter M. Steiner
Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University 
January 2010

The density of this paper’s title is a good indication of what you’ll find inside, but it's still worth your attention. It tells us that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has improved pupil achievement in math (and maybe also in grade 4 reading), and, even more importantly, that standards and tests matter when they are attached to consequences. Using (main and trend) NAEP data from 1990 to 2009, it tests the relationship between student achievement and pre- and post- NCLB sanctions. As control groups, it uses Catholic and secular private schools, largely untouched by NCLB. The authors found a statistically-significant increase in math achievement for students in public schools during the NCLB era under one of two conditions: either the state had additional sanctions on top of NCLB’s and/or it had high proficiency standards (as measured by its cut scores). In states where one or both of these conditions was met, students gained six to seven months of math in grade 4 and a full twelve months of math in grade 8. Reading results were weaker and less certain, seen only in states with both conditions and only in grade 4. But the lesson is tantalizing (and surely comforting to supporters of NCLB and kindred state accountability regimes): Sanctions can work when tied to meaningful metrics. Check it out here.

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