Is a later primary school exit test better for migrant children?

Immigrants form an increasing share of the Dutch population. Several barriers, such as a lack of Dutch language skills or limited knowledge on Dutch institutions, can hamper the integration process.   A major channel for integration is education. It can, among others, improve chances to receive higher incomes and help to build networks.

A boy raising his hand in a classroom

We are interested in the question whether the design of the Dutch educational system can help children with a migration background to thrive in Dutch society.

To estimate a causal effect of features of the educational system on the chances of migrants in education, we need (1) an exogenous shock to the educational system and (2) a large dataset to evaluate the consequences of the shock for smaller subgroups of the population.

The exogenous shock we are investigating is a very important recent change in the primary school system. This change regards the exit test (cito) and was introduced in the school year 2014-2015. In the period before the policy change, students took the primary school exit test relatively early during the school year such that teachers could use this test score when they gave the secondary school track recommendation. From 2014-2015 onward, the school exit test is taken three months later, and the teachers give their secondary school track recommendation without knowing the child’s primary school exit test score. Hence, before the policy change, the secondary school track assignment largely depended on the school exit test score, which is an objective ability measure. After the policy change, the track assignment was more dependent on the track recommendation by the teacher(s), which is a more subjective ability measure.

We will investigate whether this policy change has improved or deteriorated the chances of migrants to go to a higher secondary school level compared to children without a migration background.

We use administrative data of the full primary school student population from 2011-2017. This allows us to identify relatively small migrant groups. An additional advantage is that there is no self-selection into the sample.

Interestingly, the effect of the policy change on the relative education outcomes of migrants can go both ways. On the one hand, the change in the system may have benefitted the position of migrants because they now have three months longer to learn Dutch and become acquainted with the Dutch system and education material. On the other hand, in the new system, the subjective assessment of the teacher becomes more important. If teachers, on average, think that migrants are less able to go to higher secondary educational tracks than natives, the position of migrants in the educational system may deteriorate.

We hope this sneak peek into our research idea has made you curious to know whether we find evidence for these effects. The results of our investigation will be uploaded on the Morse site after they are published in an academic journal.

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