How does reducing the intensity of tracking affect student achievement and equity? Evidence from German state reforms

Prof. Dr. Ludger Wößmann, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

Natalie Obergruber, ifo Institute

Project Summary:
Tracking is the sorting of students by ability into different groups of learning. A more homogenous group of learning has potential advantages as teaching, curriculum, class size, and other school inputs can be tailored to these groups. For Europe, however, cross-country evidence and evaluations of de-tracking reforms in Scandinavia suggest that tracking hardly affects the average level of student achievement but increases inequality.
Germany tracks early (at age 10) and intensively (3+ school types) and shows relatively high levels of inequality in PISA scores. While it has proven to be politically hard to postpone the age of first tracking, seven states – Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Schleswig-Holstein – have implemented reforms between 2006/07 and 2011/12 that reduced the intensity of tracking.
This project aims at identifying the effect of a reduction in the intensity of tracking on the level and equity of student outcomes in German school systems. We exploit the de-tracking reforms of the seven German states in a difference-in-differences approach. The reform effect is identified by comparing the difference in outcomes of students in 9th and 10th grade between NEPS starting cohort (SC) 4 (pre-reform) and SC 3 (post-reform) in the seven reform states with the respective difference in the nine non-reform states. We will analyze effects on students’ achievement scores, attainment of 10th grade, secondary-school degree, and grade repetition, as well as heterogeneous effects by students’ socio-economic background.
In deepened analyses, administrative data from the German statistical office and from other achievement tests will be used to test for common trends before the reform implementation. The rich NEPS data allow studying changes in school inputs, peer groups, teaching staff, track choices, and private tutoring as possible channels of reform effects.