The impact of student performance labels on later schooling

One key feature of test-based accountability systems in the U.S. is that every student receives not only a test score but also a label based on their performance. Massachusetts, the state that we study, assigns students labels of Failing, Needs Improvement, Proficient, or Advanced by determining cut-points with which it divides the finer-grained test-score distribution into performance regions. … These labels provide no additional information beyond the test scores on which they are based; they are simply coarse summaries of a student’s performance. We focus on responses to labels that have no state-defined consequences for students.

This, from a paper by John Papay, Richard Murnane, and John Willett, in the Journal of Human Resources.

Using a regression-discontinuity design, we find persistent effects of earning a more positive label on the college-going decisions of urban, low-income students.

Here’s an open-access, earlier version of the paper. And here’s the key figure, on the left comparing students with an “advanced” versus a “proficient” label, and on the right, comparing the “proficient” to the “needs improvement” label:

advanced-proficient cutoff


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