Beyond the Bubble: A Cross-State Analysis of Test-Score Trends Under “Proficiency”-Based Incentives
Andrew Dean Ho

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

Statistics/Measurement/Research Methods
The No Child Left Behind Act sets the goal of 100% student proficiency for all schools. Under this mandate, most state accountability models define school status and progress in terms of percentages of students above a “proficient” cut score. There is growing evidence that this limited definition of status and progress encourages targeted teaching and disproportionate gains for near-proficient students—students on the proficiency “bubble” (Booher-Jennings, 2005; Neal & Schanzenbach, 2007; Springer, 2008). I extend this hypothesis across states using “censored data” models that take advantage of the proficiency-based results widely reported by states. These models allow for the cross-state description, comparison, and aggregation of Unexpected Changes at the Proficiency cut score (UCPs). Beyond the existence and magnitude of UCPs across states, subjects, and grades, three hypotheses are of particular interest. First, UCPs may be more pronounced for low-income students whose schools likely face the more immediate threat of sanctions. Second, UCPs for state tests may not generalize to UCPs on “audit” tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Third, UCPs in some states may be diminished by recent policy changes that smooth incentives below the proficiency cut score, including “growth models” and “index systems.” Results have implications for the design of proficiency-based policies and encourage broader perspectives on the measurement and incentivization of large-scale educational progress.
About Andrew Dean Ho

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