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Class size effects on student achievement: heterogeneity across abilities and fields


  • Maria De Paola
  • Michela Ponzo
  • Vincenzo Scoppa


In this paper, we analyze class size effects on college students exploiting data from a project offering special remedial courses in mathematics and language skills to freshmen enrolled at an Italian medium-sized public university. To estimate the effects of class size, we exploit the fact that students and teachers are virtually randomly assigned to teaching classes of different sizes. From our analysis, it emerges that controlling for a number of individual characteristics, larger classes determine a significant and sizeable negative effect on student performance in mathematics. Importantly, this negative effect is significantly larger for low-ability students and negligible for high-ability ones. On the other hand, class size effects do not appear to be relevant for student achievement in language skills.

Suggested Citation

  • Maria De Paola & Michela Ponzo & Vincenzo Scoppa, 2013. "Class size effects on student achievement: heterogeneity across abilities and fields," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(2), pages 135-153, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:edecon:v:21:y:2013:i:2:p:135-153 DOI: 10.1080/09645292.2010.511811

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Simone Balestra & Uschi Backes-Gellner, 2014. "Heterogeneous effects of pupil-to-teacher ratio policies - A look at class size reduction and teacher aide," Economics of Education Working Paper Series 0102, University of Zurich, Department of Business Administration (IBW), revised Apr 2017.
    2. Luigi Benfratello & Giuseppe Sorrenti & Gilberto Turati, 2015. "Tracking in the Tracks in the Italian Schooling: Inequality Patterns in an Urban Context," Working papers 030, Department of Economics and Statistics (Dipartimento di Scienze Economico-Sociali e Matematico-Statistiche), University of Torino.
    3. Brunello, Giorgio & De Paola, Maria, 2013. "The Costs of Early School Leaving in Europe," IZA Discussion Papers 7791, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Daniel E. Ho & Mark G. Kelman, 2014. "Does Class Size Affect the Gender Gap? A Natural Experiment in Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 43(2), pages 291-321.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C23 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Models with Panel Data; Spatio-temporal Models
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity


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