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Does practicing literacy skills improve academic performance in first-year university students? Results from a randomized experiment


  • Estelle Bellity
  • Fabrice Gilles
  • Yannick L'Horty


We evaluate the impact of encouraging students to practice literacy skills, as well as improvement in these skills, on academic performance in first-year university students. Several previous studies have attempted to understand drivers for academic success in university students. To our knowledge, none focus on directly analyzing the relations between such factors and students' academic performance. We used a randomized experiment based on an encouragement design with a group of first-year students in Economics and Management in two French universities. For measuring the effects of encouragement, we included an innovative pedagogical tool for practicing literacy skills via a web platform, called Projet Voltaire. This tool also allowed us to get a good measure of the literacy skills of the students, both at the beginning and at the end of the first term of the academic year. During the entire semester, students had the opportunity to practice literacy skills using Projet Voltaire. To evaluate the impact of literacy on different final grades or final exam scores, and particularly on first-year grade averages, we distinguished between two randomly selected groups of students: some were encouraged to practice literacy skills, while others were only made aware of the option. As a measure of improvement in literacy skills, we use the difference between scores on the two literacy tests. Estimating intention to treat and local average treatment effect, we show that both encouragement to practice literacy skills and an improvement in literacy test scores over the first term are positively correlated with the academic performance of first-year university students, and in particular the probability that they will complete one or both semesters of the academic year.
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  • Estelle Bellity & Fabrice Gilles & Yannick L'Horty, 2017. "Does practicing literacy skills improve academic performance in first-year university students? Results from a randomized experiment," TEPP Working Paper 2017-02, TEPP.
  • Handle: RePEc:tep:teppwp:wp17-02

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    1. Steven G. Rivkin & Eric A. Hanushek & John F. Kain, 2005. "Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(2), pages 417-458, March.
    2. Machin, Stephen & McNally, Sandra, 2008. "The literacy hour," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1441-1462, June.
    3. Duflo, Esther & Glennerster, Rachel & Kremer, Michael, 2008. "Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
    4. Imbens, Guido W & Angrist, Joshua D, 1994. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 467-475, March.
    5. Mendez, Ildefonso, 2015. "The effect of the intergenerational transmission of noncognitive skills on student performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 78-97.
    6. James J. Heckman & Vytlacil, Edward J., 2007. "Econometric Evaluation of Social Programs, Part I: Causal Models, Structural Models and Econometric Policy Evaluation," Handbook of Econometrics,in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 6, chapter 70 Elsevier.
    7. Guido W. Imbens & Donald B. Rubin, 1997. "Estimating Outcome Distributions for Compliers in Instrumental Variables Models," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 64(4), pages 555-574.
    8. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rémi Le Gall, 2019. "Négocier les règles d'évaluation pour développer l'accompagnement à la réussite des étudiants," Working Papers hal-02140207, HAL.

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