- Gema Zamarro
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Standardized assessments are widely used to determine access to educational resources with important consequences for later economic outcomes in life. However, many design features of the tests themselves may lead to psychological reactions influencing performance. In particular, the level of difficulty of the earlier questions in a test may affect performance in later questions. How should we order test questions according to their level of difficulty such that test performance offers an accurate assessment of the test taker's aptitudes and knowledge? We conduct a field experiment with about 19,000 participants in collaboration with an online teaching platform where we randomly assign participants to different orders of difficulty and we find that ordering the questions from easiest to most difficult yields the lowest probability to abandon the test, as well as the highest number of correct answers. Consistent results are found exploiting the random variation of difficulty across test booklets in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triannual international test, for the years of 2009, 2012, and 2015, providing additional external validity. We conclude that the order of the difficulty of the questions in tests should be considered carefully, in particular when comparing performance between test-takers who have faced different order of questions.
A growing body of research and popular reporting shows racial differences in school modality choices during the COVID-19 crisis, with white students more likely to attend school in person. This in-person learning gap raises serious equity concerns. We use unique panel survey data to explore possible explanations. We find that a combination of factors may explain these differences. School districts’ offerings, political partisanship, and local COVID-19 outbreaks are all meaningfully associated with and plausibly explain the in-person learning racial gap. As schools start offering more in-person learning, significant efforts may be necessary to ensure that families and students attend those in-person learning opportunities.
International assessments are important to benchmark the quality of education across countries. However, on low-stakes tests, students’ incentives to invest their maximum effort may be minimal. Research stresses that ignoring students’ effort when interpreting results from low-stakes assessments can lead to biased interpretations of test performance across groups of examinees. We use data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a low-stakes test, to analyze the extent to which student effort helps to explain test scores heterogeneity across countries and by gender groups. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for differences in student effort to understand cross-country heterogeneity in performance and variations in gender achievement gaps across nations. We find that, once we account for differential student effort across gender groups, the estimated gender achievement gap in math and science could be up to 12 and 6 times wider, respectively, and up to 49 percent narrower in reading, in favor of boys. In math and science, the gap widens in most countries, even among some of the top 20 most gender-equal countries. Altogether, our effort measures on average explain between 36 and 40 percent of the cross-country variation in test scores.
Many states have recently made or are considering changes to their teacher retirement systems. However, little is known about how teachers value various elements of their retirement benefits versus other aspects of their jobs and compensation. To help alleviate this gap, we use a discrete choice stated preferences experiment embedded in a nationally representative survey of teachers to estimate their willingness-to-pay for various retirement plan characteristics and other non-salary job components. We find that teachers would be indifferent between a traditional pension and alternative retirement plan designs if the alternatives were paired with 2 to 3 percent salary increases. Our results indicate that experience is a significant mediator of retirement plan preferences. While more experienced teachers are willing to pay more to keep their traditional pension plans, inexperienced teachers do not have strong preferences around retirement plan type. However, teachers’ willingness-to-pay for traditional pension plans is less than their willingness-to-pay for many other elements of their compensation, including the value of retirement benefits, retirement age, salary growth, healthcare coverage, and Social Security enrollment.
We study the effects of counterfactual teacher-to-classroom assignments on average student achievement in elementary and middle schools in the US. We use the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) experiment to semiparametrically identify the average reallocation effects (AREs) of such assignments. Our findings suggest that changes in within-district teacher assignments could have appreciable effects on student achievement. Unlike policies which require hiring additional teachers (e.g., class-size reduction measures), or those aimed at changing the stock of teachers (e.g., VAM-guided teacher tenure policies), alternative teacher-to-classroom assignments are resource neutral; they raise student achievement through a more efficient deployment of existing teachers.
Teacher turnover has adverse consequences for student achievement and imposes large financial costs for schools. Some have argued that high-stakes testing may lower teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs and could be a major contributor to teacher attrition. In this paper, we exploit changes in the tested grades and subjects in Georgia to study the effects of eliminating high-stakes testing on teacher turnover and the distribution of teachers across grades and schools. To measure the effect of testing pressures on teacher mobility choices we use a "difference-in-differences" approach, comparing changes in mobility over time in grades/subjects that discontinue testing vis-à-vis grades/subjects that are always tested. Our results show that eliminating testing did not have an impact on the likelihood of leaving teaching, changing schools within a district, or moving between districts. We only uncover small negative effects on the likelihood of grade switching. However, we do find relevant positive effects on retention of beginning teachers in the profession. In particular, the average probability of exit for teachers with 0-4 years of experience fell from 14 to 13 percentage points for teachers in grades 1 and 2 and from 14 to 11 percentage points in grades 6 and 7.
We explore the intergenerational occupational transmission between parents and their children as it pertains to entry into the STEM field. Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, we study student’s aspirations to work in a STEM field and eventual STEM education and employment. We show how these patterns change depending on whether the student’s parents work in a STEM field. We find strong effects of parental occupation type on student’s STEM outcomes that are heterogeneous by student gender. High school boys are more likely to aspire to work in STEM if one of their parents do so. By adulthood, both boys and girls have a higher probability of majoring and working in a STEM field if their parents also do, and in this case, estimated effects are stronger for girls despite a lack of effects on high school girls’ aspirations. For girls but not for boys, having a parent working in STEM increases the probability of entering the STEM field in adulthood above and beyond aspirations to enter the STEM field during adolescence.