Thursday, 23 June, 2016 | 08:00 | Defense

Miroslava Federičová: “Essays on the Effects of Early School Tracking”

Dissertation Committee:
Daniel Münich (chair)
Alena Bičáková
Randall K. Filer
Štěpán Jurajda


This dissertation studies the transition process of the early-tracking school system that usually occurs at the age of 10, and focuses on its effects on student academic achievement. Moreover, as this early selection occurs at the time of changes in brain development that is different for boys and girls, all chapters also examine the topics from the perspective of gender.

Chapter 1 is focused on the selection process itself and studies the role of grades in explaining the gender difference in application rates to selective schools. This selection is provided mostly according to cognitive skills that are signalled to pupils in the form of grades. Although grades play a very important role in the application process, conditional on cognitive skills, grades differ substantially between girls and boys. In this chapter, I propose the model of asymmetric signal of the probability of admission for girls and boys arising from grades. Data about transition from primary to selective schools in the Czech Republic shows that girls apply at significantly higher rates. I find that this difference also remains the same after controlling for probability of admission. Furthermore, test scores collected by an international testing program have no effect on gender differences in applications that are, however, in large part explained by grades. This finding is consistent with grades acting as a signal that provides imperfect and incomplete information about the probability of being admitted, and consequently causes the gender difference in application.

Chapter 2 contributes to the literature on high-stakes testing as a tool for educational accountability. In order to isolate the impact of high-stakes admission exams to selective schools on student academic achievement, I use the school policy change in Slovakia that shifted the timing of these exams to a later grade. Using two waves of TIMSS survey data and difference-in-difference methodology I find that high-stakes exams increase ten-year-old students' math test scores by 0.2 standard deviations on average. This effect additionally accrues by around 0.05 standard deviations for students in the top decile, i.e. students with the highest probability of being admitted to selective schools. Although the effects are similar for both genders, there are indications that girls put more effort into preparing for such exams than boys in a more competitive environment.

The final chapter discusses the impact of negative externalities of early-tracking on pupils’ self-confidence. In this chapter, I focus on those pupils that did not apply for selective schools (are left apart from the selection process) but at the same time they observe the preparation process of their classmates. As this process is stressful and often involves many months of preparation, it naturally divides many 5th grade classes into two groups: pupils preparing for exams to enter better schools and everyone else, who do not compete for selective schools. I show that this environment has a detrimental effect on the self-confidence of pupils in mathematics who do not apply for selective schools but have peers in their classroom who do apply. This effect is particularly strong for girls. Controlling for the number of successful applicants in the classroom further indicates that girls are more likely to experience declines in self-confidence due to the loss of peers rather than the competitive environment itself.

Full Text: “Essays on the Effects of Early School Tracking” by Miroslava Federičová