Understanding the Stakes: The Influence of Accountability Policy Options on Teachers’ Responses

Under test-based accountability, side-effects —including practices to inflate test results, often seen as cheating—are usually associated to so-called high-stakes policies. However, the influence of different types of stakes in the generation of this type of practices has been overlooked in education research. Based on a survey experiment, our results indicate that the type and level of stakes of accountability systems (e.g., high- vs. low-stakes, material vs. symbolic) do not differ in triggering side-effects. Counterintuitively, individual symbolic consequences trigger similar reactions among teachers than material incentives. In-depth interviews give insights into the social mechanisms that lead to symbolic effects having such an influence in understanding teachers’ reactivity to accountability.