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On School Choice and Test-Based Accountability

Publisher: Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13 (41)

Among the two most prominent school reform measures currently being implemented in the United States are school choice and test-based accountability. Until recently, the two policy initiatives remained relatively distinct from one another. With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), a mutualism between choice and accountability emerged whereby school choice complements test-based accountability. In the first portion of this study we present a conceptual overview of school choice and test-based accountability and explicate connections between the two that are explicit in reform implementations like NCLB or implicit within the market-based reform literature in which school choice and test-based accountability reside. In the second portion the authors scrutinize the connections, in particular, between school choice and test-based accountability using a large western school district with a popular choice system in place. Data from three sources are combined to explore the ways in which school choice and test-based accountability draw on each other: state assessment data of children in the district, school choice data for every participating student in the district choice program, and a parental survey of both participants and non-participants of choice asking their attitudes concerning the use of school report cards in the district. Results suggest that choice is of benefit academically to only the lowest achieving students and that higher scoring students are the most likely to participate in choice, across different ethnic groups in the district. In addition, parental choice patterns tend to favor schools with higher-scoring students, although parents themselves report that these test scores are not among their primary motivations for participation in choice. As such, the results conform more to the expectations of choice critics than advocates.