The impact of no Child Left Behind on student achievement


  • Thomas S. Dee,

    1. Professor of Public Policy and Economics and Research Professor of Education, Department of Economics, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
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  • Brian Jacob

    1. Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy, Professor of Economics, and Director of the Center on Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, 735 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
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The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act compelled states to design school accountability systems based on annual student assessments. The effect of this federal legislation on the distribution of student achievement is a highly controversial but centrally important question. This study presents evidence on whether NCLB has influenced student achievement based on an analysis of state-level panel data on student test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The impact of NCLB is identified using a comparative interrupted time series analysis that relies on comparisons of the test-score changes across states that already had school accountability policies in place prior to NCLB and those that did not. Our results indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of fourth graders (effect size 5 0.23 by 2007) as well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also evidence of improvements in eighth-grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased fourth-grade reading achievement. © 2011 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.