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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Essays on the Economics of Education

  • Author(s): Paredes Haz, Valentina Amanda
  • Advisor(s): Card, David
  • et al.

An important question that many educators face is how to motivate students to study. Many programs in the US and other countries give cash or award incentives to encourage students to exert more effort. In the following three essays, I explore different alternatives to raise student effort, which in turn should raise student achievement, measured in grades and standardized test scores.

In my first essay, I propose that the grading system affects the incentives to exert effort among students. For this purpose, I build a model where students maximize their utility by choosing effort. I investigate how student effort changes when there is a change in the grading system from absolute grading to relative grading. I use data from college students in Chile who faced a change in the grading system to test the implications of my model. My model predicts that, for low levels of uncertainty: (i) total effort is higher with absolute grading; (ii) low ability students exert less effort with absolute grading, and; (iii) high ability students exert more effort with absolute grading. The data confirms that there is a change in the distribution of effort, although I don't find a change in the total level of effort.

One results from the model discussed in the first essay is that high ability students exert higher effort under higher standards, but a high standard might have a negative impact on low ability students, who could give up and hence exert zero effort. So in my second essay, I explore whether higher grading standards have an effect on student achievement measured by standardized tests. Grading standards are measured as the school intercept in a regression of standardized test scores on grades. Using data from 8th graders in Chile, I find that higher standards have a positive average effect on standardized test scores. This effect is positive for the percentiles 25, 50 and 75 of the achievement distribution and is larger for the 25th percentile.

In my third essay, I explore whether the gender of the teacher has an impact on student achievement and if this impact is different for boys and girls. Again, I use data from 8th graders in Chile. Within-student comparisons based on these data indicate that

assignment to a same-gender teacher significantly improves the achievement of girls but doesn't improve the achievement of boys. I find that the effect is larger for subjects that are traditionally considered male dominated, and for girls whose mothers have low levels of education, which is consistent with a role model hypothesis.

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