Monday, August 22, 2011

On educational performance measures

I have a new paper:
IZA DP No. 5897
Alastair Muriel, Jeffrey A. Smith:

On Educational Performance Measures
(published in: Fiscal Studies, 2011, 32(2), 187-206)

Quantitative school performance measures (QPMs) are playing an ever larger role in education systems on both sides of the Atlantic. In this paper we outline the rationale for the use of such measures in education, review the literature relating to several important problems associated with their use, and argue that they nonetheless have a positive role to play in improving the educational quality. We delineate several institutional reforms which would help schools to respond "positively" to QPMs, emphasizing the importance of agents' flexibility to change the way they work, and the importance of a sound knowledge base regarding "what works" in raising attainment. We suggest that the present institutional setups in both England and the US too often hold schools accountable for outcomes over which they have little control – but that such problems are far from insurmountable.
The working paper version (not gated) is here, and the published version (gated) is here. They are the same other than minor changes at the proof stage.

The paper tries to steer a middle course on the question of quantitative educational performance measures, arguing that they have some value, and so should not be simply abolished, but that they should not be the whole, or even the majority, of the institutional system that seeks to improve and maintain school quality. Moreover, there is much to complain about in regard to the current design of such systems, particularly the system put in place by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in the US. The performance measures in the US job training system have problems at well, as I (again with co-authors) have written about elsewhere.

This paper is based on a presentation I gave at a conference-within-a-conference at Oxford in the summer of 2010. It is unusual for me in that the nice folks at the Institute for Fiscal Studies provided me with a co-author to help transform the talk into the paper. My co-author Alistair Muriel, whom I first met at the conference, turned out to be the perfect partner, which is to say that he writes well, works hard, and put up with the oddities of my work style. The paper is also notable for the speed of publication; due to a few days lag by me in submitting the final version to IZA, and some backlog at IZA in announcing their new discussion papers, the "working" paper actually came out after the published journal version in Fiscal Studies.

I went with IZA rather than NBER (the NBER prohibits circulation in multiple working paper series, though that rule is widely ignored by people other than me) because of the European content to the paper.

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