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Selection Bias in College Admissions Test Scores

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  • Melissa Clark
  • Jesse Rothstein
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Melissa Clark & Jesse Rothstein & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2008. "Selection Bias in College Admissions Test Scores," NBER Working Papers 14265, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14265
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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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    7. Krueger, Alan B & Whitmore, Diane M, 2001. "The Effect of Attending a Small Class in the Early Grades on College-Test Taking and Middle School Test Results: Evidence from Project STAR," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(468), pages 1-28, January.
    8. 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).
    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. Murphy, Kevin M & Topel, Robert H, 2002. "Estimation and Inference in Two-Step Econometric Models," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(1), pages 88-97, January.
    11. 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.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Card, David & Rothstein, Jesse, 2007. "Racial segregation and the black-white test score gap," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(11-12), pages 2158-2184, December.
    3. Goodman, Joshua & Hurwitz, Michael & Smith, Jonathan & Fox, Julia, 2015. "The relationship between siblings’ college choices: Evidence from one million SAT-taking families," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 75-85.
    4. Sezgin Polat & Jean-Jacques Paul, 2016. "How to predict university performance: a case study from a prestigious Turkish university?," Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación volume 11,in: José Manuel Cordero Ferrera & Rosa Simancas Rodríguez (ed.), Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación 11, edition 1, volume 11, chapter 22, pages 423-434 Asociación de Economía de la Educación.
    5. Goodman, Joshua & Hurwitz, Michael & Smith, Jonathan & Fox, Julia, 2016. "Reprint of “The relationship between siblings’ college choices: Evidence from one million SAT-taking families”," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 125-135.
    6. Raj Aggarwal & Joanne Goodell & John Goodell, 2014. "Culture, Gender, and GMAT Scores: Implications for Corporate Ethics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 123(1), pages 125-143, August.
    7. Sarena Goodman, 2013. "Learning from the test: raising selective college enrollment by providing information," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-69, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C24 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Truncated and Censored Models; Switching Regression Models; Threshold Regression Models
    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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