NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Schools Respond to Accountability Incentives

December 5, 2001

In 1994, Texas implemented an accountability system based on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test, which focuses primarily on mathematics and reading in grades 3 through 8 and 10. The gains in student performance have been remarkable.

There are two potential explanations for gains in performance: schools are using more resources (the production story) or schools are doing something different with their existing resources (the incentive story). For years, declining performance coupled with increased expenditures has cast doubt on the production hypothesis. A new study by the Private Enterprise Research Center at Texas A&M University suggests accountability incentives have altered Texas school behavior in three areas.

  • First, passing rates on the tests included in the accountability ratings have risen relative to passing rates on tests that are excluded from the ratings system -- indicating an allocation of teaching effort to subjects covered by the new incentives.
  • Second, students at or below the passing level exhibit the most improvement on the tests -- indicating an allocation of resources that is influenced by the incentives of the testing structure, which focuses on the passing rate.
  • Third, schools are more likely to exempt students from taking the TAAS test -- thereby excluding these students from their accountability rating -- who are more likely to fail the test.

Thus, while there was a marked increase in 8th grade math scores (which are included in the accountability ratings) between 1995 and 1999, the 8th grade social studies test scores (which aren't included) were stagnant -- indicating Texas schools have concentrated relatively more of their efforts on those subjects that affect accountability ratings.

Source: "School Accountability Gets Results," PERCspectives on Research, Autumn 2001, Private Enterprise Research Center.


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