Focusing on Short-term Achievement Gains Fails to Produce Long-term Gains


  • David W Grissmer University of Virginia
  • John A Beekman Ball State University
  • David R Ober Ball State University



Accountability, Longitudinal Achievement, Changing Demographics


The short-term emphasis engendered by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has focused research predominantly on unraveling the complexities and uncertainties in assessing short-term results, rather than developing methods and assessing results over the longer term. In this paper we focus on estimating long-term gains and address questions important to evaluating schools and identifying educational policies and practices that produce long-term sustained gains. Estimates are made of annual pass rates on state exams using fixed effect models for six years of pass rates at grades 3, 6, 8 and 10; the percentages of schools making statistically significant gains, gains, losses, and statistically significant losses in pass rates are determined. Estimates are contrasted using models that include and exclude demographic characteristics. The percentages of schools with statistically significant gains varied markedly from 38 to 6 at grades 6 and 10, respectively; the percentage of schools with statistically significant declines ranged from less than 8 percent at grades 3, 6, and 8, to 23 percent at grade 10. Including demographics increased the percentages of schools with statistically significant gains and lowered the percentages with statistically significant declines. The results suggest that schools with higher proportions of free-reduced lunch and minority students are more likely to have statistically significant gains with demographic controls. Estimates of pass rate trends are made using Monte Carlo simulations; from these simulations the percentages of schools that may be mislabeled as having statistically significant gains and losses are determined. Even with six years of trend data, results suggest that chance can still play a significant role in mislabeling school performance, especially in grades having weak overall trends.


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Author Biographies

David W Grissmer, University of Virginia

Dr. Grissmer is a Research Professor in the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Prior to 2006 he was a Senior Management Scientist in the Washington, DC, Office of Rand Corporation. His current research interests are directed toward understanding the origin of the gaps in achievement between Black, Hispanic, and White students, and between advantaged and disadvantaged students. He also has investigated the developmental origins of these cognitive gaps prior to school entry using the ECLS-K and ECLS-B data bases. He is currently Co-PI on two major random controlled trials involving evaluations of an after school socio-emotional program and CORE Knowledge charter schools.


John A Beekman, Ball State University

Dr. Beekman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Actuarial Science at Ball State University.  His research and writing have been in the areas of stochastic processes, mathematical statistics, partial differential equations, actuarial models, actuarial projections for the U.S. Social Security, mathematical demography, and educational statistics. He also has actuarial experience in the life insurance industry. Since establishing the university's graduate and undergraduate Actuarial Science programs in 1970, over 200 Actuarial Science students at Ball State University have received a part of their actuarial training from Dr. Beekman.  


David R Ober, Ball State University

Dr. Ober is Department Chairperson and Professor of Physics and Astronomy Emeritus at Ball State University. He has served as PI and Co-PI of summer instruction programs for high ability high school students and physics teacher preparation and retention initiatives. He directed a university sponsored updating/retaining program for physics and physical science teachers. He also served for four years as a Co-PI to the university's Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project that was initiated in 2001 by the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers to address the critical shortage of qualified physics and physical science teachers.




How to Cite

Grissmer, D. W., Beekman, J. A., & Ober, D. R. (2014). Focusing on Short-term Achievement Gains Fails to Produce Long-term Gains. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22, 5.