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Selection Bias in College Admissions Test Scores

  • Melissa Clark
  • Jesse Rothstein
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Data from college admissions tests can provide a valuable measure of student achievement, but the non-representativeness of test-takers is an important concern. We examine selectivity bias in both state-level and school-level SAT and ACT averages. The degree of selectivity may differ importantly across and within schools, and across and within states. To identify within-state selectivity, we use a control function approach that conditions on scores from a representative test. Estimates indicate strong selectivity of test-takers in "ACT states," where most college-bound students take the ACT, and much less selectivity in SAT states. To identify within- and between-school selectivity, we take advantage of a policy reform in Illinois that made taking the ACT a graduation requirement. Estimates based on this policy change indicate substantial positive selection into test participation both across and within schools. Despite this, school-level averages of observed scores are extremely highly correlated with average latent scores, as across-school variation in sample selectivity is small relative to the underlying signal. As a result, in most contexts the use of observed school mean test scores in place of latent means understates the degree of between-school variation in achievement but is otherwise unlikely to lead to misleading conclusions.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14265.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14265.

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Date of creation: Aug 2008
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Publication status: published as Clark, Melissa & Rothstein, Jesse & Schanzenbach, Diane Whitmore, 2009. "Selection bias in college admissions test scores," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 295-307, June.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14265
Note: CH LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Card, David & Payne, A. Abigail, 2002. "School finance reform, the distribution of school spending, and the distribution of student test scores," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 49-82, January.
  2. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 1985. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 3(4), pages 370-79, October.
  3. Dynarski, Mark, 1987. "The Scholastic Aptitude Test: Participation and performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 263-273, June.
  4. Katharine G. Abraham & Melissa A. Clark, 2006. "Financial Aid and Students’ College Decisions: Evidence from the District of Columbia Tuition Assistance Grant Program," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(3).
  5. Gronau, Reuben, 1974. "Wage Comparisons-A Selectivity Bias," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1119-43, Nov.-Dec..
  6. Eric A. Hanushek & Lori L. Taylor, 1990. "Alternative Assessments of the Performance of Schools: Measurement of State Variations in Achievement," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(2), pages 179-201.
  7. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
  8. Dynarski, Mark & Gleason, Philip, 1993. "Using scholastic aptitude test scores as indicators of state educational performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 203-211, September.
  9. Jesse M. Rothstein, 2006. "Good Principals or Good Peers? Parental Valuation of School Characteristics, Tiebout Equilibrium, and the Incentive Effects of Competition among Jurisdictions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 1333-1350, September.
  10. Jacob L. Vigdor & Charles T. Clotfelter, 2003. "Retaking the SAT," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(1).
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