Food for Thought: The Effects of School Accountability Plans on School Nutrition
23 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2002 Last revised: 25 Apr 2015
Date Written: November 2002
School accountability systems based on high-stakes testing of students have become ubiquitous in the United States, and are now federal policy as well. This paper identifies a previously-unresearched method through which schools faced with potential sanctions may 'game the system' in order to have higher aggregate student test scores than might otherwise be warranted. There exists a well-established link between nutrition and short-term cognitive functioning. Hence, we investigate whether school districts exploit this relationship by strategically altering school nutrition menus during testing periods in an apparent attempt to artificially increase student test scores. Using detailed daily school nutrition data from a random sample of Virginia school districts, we find that school districts having schools faced with potential sanctions under Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL) accountability system apparently respond by substantially increasing calories in their menus on testing days, while those without such immediate pressure do not change their menus. Suggestive evidence indicates that the school districts who do this the most experience the largest increases in pass rates.
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