Achievement Gains from Attendance at Selective High Schools

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 08/18

Date: June 2018


Brendan Houng
Chris Ryan


Selective high schools are a polarizing topic in education policy, despite only having a small presence in some Australian states. These schools perform exceptionally well when their students’ educational and career outcomes are considered, but this is perhaps unsurprising because admission is based on academic performance. This paper asks whether academically selective schools improve their students’ university entrance results beyond what they would have achieved otherwise. Following a cohort of students through high school from an anonymized Australian state, we estimate the selective school effect via two methods: propensity score matching, which compares students of similar background and prior achievement, and regression discontinuity (RD), which compares marginal selective and non-selective students on the basis of the entrance exam. Our results point to small effects in terms of university entrance ranks, which is consistent with findings from similar studies in the UK, the USA, and other Australian research. Overall, the small selective school effect appears to reflect the high levels of educational aspiration of both selective students as well as applicants who attended other schools. Both groups of students appear to be among the most driven and motivated, being disproportionately from immigrant and socio-economically advantaged backgrounds, and having implicitly signaled an aspirational intent by applying to the schools.

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