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Discriminating Behavior: Evidence from teachers’ grading bias

Ferman, Bruno and Fontes, Luiz Felipe (2020): Discriminating Behavior: Evidence from teachers’ grading bias.

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Abstract

Recent evidence has established that non-cognitive skills are key determinants of education and labor outcomes. However, little is known about the mechanisms producing these results. This paper tests a channel that could explain part of the association between some non-cognitive characteristics and educational attainment: teachers' assessment practices that unequally evaluate students on the basis of their classroom behavior rather than their scholastic competence. Evidence is drawn from unique data on middle- and high-school students in Brazilian private schools. Our main empirical strategy is based on the contrasting of teacher-assigned and blindly-assigned scores on achievement tests that are high-stakes and cover the same material. Using detailed data on student classroom behaviors and holding constant performance in exams graded blindly, evidence indicates that teachers inflate test scores of better-behaved students, and deduct points from worse-behaved ones. We also find that, conditional on end-of-year grade, teachers' decision to approve pupils that are bellow the passing cutoff grade is influenced by how these students behaved in class. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that this grading behavior may significantly change the proportion of students failing the school year depending on their classroom attitudes.

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