No Child Left behind and the Reduction of the Achievement Gap: Sociological Perspectives on Federal Educational Policy

By Alan R. Sadovnik; Jennifer A. O’Day et al. | Go to book overview

3
Double Standards for
Graduation Rate Accountability?
Or None?

Christopher B. Swanson


INTRODUCTION

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), requires that the nations public schools be held accountable for achieving high levels of educational proficiency for all students. The considerable public attention directed toward the state accountability systems mandated by NCLB has focused largely on the expansive student assessments required under the federal law and on the high-stakes sanctions applied to schools that consistently fail to meet established performance benchmarks. Often overlooked in these debates has been the fact that, in addition to test scores, state accountability systems must also incorporate at least one other indicator of academic performance. At the secondary education level this additional measure must be the high-school graduation rate.

Holding schools and districts accountable for improving both test scores and graduation rates is intended to serve as a critical safeguard against gaming strategies that may be abetted by high-stakes accountability systems. Suppose, for example, that an educational accountability system attached stakes only to test scores. One way to boost test scores would be to push the lowest performing students out of school. This kind of gaming strategy would result in higher achievement scores and would, therefore, help schools to avoid sanctions. But these apparent gains would be artificial, obtained only at the high cost of creating more dropouts. Requiring accountability for graduation rates is intended to counteract such perverse incentives that could undermine the spirit of the law.

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