High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Does Accountability Pressure Increase Student Learning?


  • Sharon L. Nichols University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Gene V Glass Arizona State University
  • David C. Berliner Arizona State University




high-stakes testing, educational policy, No Child Left Behind


This study examined the relationship between high-stakes testing pressure and student achievement across 25 states. Standardized portfolios were created for each study state. Each portfolio contained a range of documents that told the “story” of accountability implementation and impact in that state. Using the “law of comparative judgments,” over 300 graduate-level education students reviewed one pair of portfolios and made independent evaluations as to which of the two states’ portfolios reflected a greater degree of accountability pressure. Participants’ judgments yielded a matrix that was converted into a single rating system that arranged all 25 states on a continuum of accountability “pressure” from high to low. Using this accountability pressure rating we conducted a series of regression and correlation analyses. We found no relationship between earlier pressure and later cohort achievement for math at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. Further, no relationship was found between testing pressure and reading achievement on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests at any grade level or for any ethnic student subgroup. Data do suggest, however, that a case could be made for a causal relationship between high-stakes testing pressure and subsequent achievement on the national assessment tests—but only for fourth grade, non-cohort achievement and for some ethnic subgroups. Implications and directions for future studies are discussed.


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Author Biographies

Sharon L. Nichols, University of Texas at San Antonio

Sharon L. Nichols is currently an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She got her Ph.D. from University of Arizona where she studied student belongingness, adolescent development, and motivation. She is the co-author (with Tom Good) of America’s Teenagers—Myths and Realities: Media Images, Schooling, and the Social Costs of Indifference (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2004). Her current research interests include educational policy, student motivation, and teacher effectiveness.

Gene V Glass, Arizona State University

Gene V Glass, a Regents' Professor of Education Policy Studies and Psychology in Education at the Arizona State University College of Education, earned his B.A. from the University of Nebraska (1962) and his PhD from the University of Wisconsin (1965). He has been a faculty member of the University of Illinois (1965–67) and the University of Colorado (1967–86). Glass has been a Visiting Scholar at the Max-Planck Institute for Psychiatry (Munich) and the Center for the Study of Evaluation (UCLA). Trained originally in statistics, his interests now include evaluation methodology and policy analysis. In 1975, he was elected President of the American Educational Research Association. He served as Editor of the Review of Educational Research (1968–70), Editor for Methodology of the Psychological Bulletin (1978–80), and Co-Editor of the American Educational Research Journal (1983–86). He was twice (1968, 1970) honored with the Palmer O. Johnson award of AERA; in 1984, he received the Lazarsfeld Award of the American Evaluation Association. He is a member of the National Academy of Education. Currently he serves as editor of Education Review and is Executive Editor of the International Journal of Education & the Arts.

David C. Berliner, Arizona State University

David C. Berliner is Regents’ Professor of Education at Arizona State University. He has also taught at the Universities of Arizona, Massachusetts, Oregon, and at Stanford University, as well as in Australia, Israel, Spain and the Netherlands. Dr. Berliner is a member of the National Academy of Education, a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and is a past president of both the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA). He is the recipient of awards for distinguished contributions from APA, AERA, and the National Education Association (NEA). He is co-author (with B. J. Biddle) of the best seller The Manufactured Crisis, co-author (with Ursula Casanova) of Putting Research to Work, and co-author (with N. L. Gage) of the textbook Educational Psychology, now in its 6th edition. He is co-editor of the Handbook of Educational Psychology and the books Talks to Teachers, and Perspectives on Instructional Time. He has authored almost 200 published articles, technical reports, and book chapters.




How to Cite

Nichols, S. L. ., Glass, G. V. ., & Berliner, D. C. . (2006). High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Does Accountability Pressure Increase Student Learning?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 14, 1. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v14n1.2006




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