A study by the Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute found that Florida elementary schools that were under pressure to improve their math and reading scores made greater gains in science than schools that didn't face similar pressure under that state's accountability system. The findings counter what many critics of No Child Left Behind and other high-stakes testing regimes have said for years: that the focus on reading and math comes at the expense of other subjects that are not tested, and that this crowding effect has led to lower achievement levels in "low stakes" subjects such as science, social studies, and the arts.
Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who coauthored the study, says it's difficult to pinpoint why science scores improved. He leans toward the "spillover effect" theory; that if students have strong math and reading skills, they are more likely to master other subjects, including science. David Figlio, a professor at the University of Florida who has reviewed the study's findings, says other factors may be at work. He says public pressure—the embarrassment that comes with being labeled a failing school—and a school's overall reforms, such as a longer school day, may have caused schools not to ignore science instruction. Whatever the reason, Figlio says, "We can feel a little more comfortable about the effects of global accountability given these results."