Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grading grades

Graded children – evidence of longrun consequences of school grades from a nationwide reform
By Anna Sjogren, IFAU

Swedish elementary school children stopped receiving written end of year report cards following a grading reform in 1982. Gradual implementation of the reform creates an opportunity to investigate the effects of being graded on adult educational attainments and earnings for children in the cohorts born 1954–1974, using a differ­ence-in-differences strategy. Accounting for municipal time trends and tracing out reform dynamics, there is some evidence that being graded increases girls’ years of schooling, but has no significant average effect on boys. Analysis of effects by fam­ily background suggests that getting grades increases the probability of high school graduation for boys and girls with compulsory school educated parents. Sons of uni­versity graduates, however, earn less and are less likely to get a university degree if they were graded in elementary school.

Keywords: school policy, grades, educational attainment, adult earnings, family background, difference-in-differences.

JEL-codes: I21, I28, J13, J24
I have been meaning to highlight this paper on the blog for some time. I read it last fall in preparation for a trip to Sweden. It presents some surprising and compelling evidence on the effects of having grades in primary school on later outcomes.

The paper reminded me of a talk that Dan Hamermesh gave over lunch at the Society of Labor Economists meetings a few years ago when they were in Austin, Texas. The theme of the talk was (I paraphrase here) it is good that other countries exist because they will try crazy policies that we [i.e. Americans] would never try, and those crazy policies provide very useful information about policy effects. I think Dan is largely correct about this, but as I recall my friends from Canada that I was sitting next to at the lunch were less enthused about this line of reasoning.

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