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Honored Publications


Nicolas Hübner, Wolfgang Wagner, Jan Hochweber, Marko Neumann and Benjamin Nagengast

(University of Tübingen | University of Tübingen | University of Teacher Education St. Gallen | DIPF Frankfurt/Main | University of Tübingen)

Comparing Apples and Oranges: Curricular Intensification Reforms Can Change the Meaning of Students’ Grades!

Journal of Educational Psychology, Online First Publication, March 14, 2019.

>> Abstract

Teacher-assigned grades provide important information that is used by universities and colleges to make admission decisions and by employers to make hiring decisions. Besides grades, the results of standardized achievement tests are frequently used for student selection and allocation. However, correlations between the two achievement measures are far from perfect, and researchers have argued that this discrepancy can be at least partially attributed to norm-referenced grading, which is based on the composition of performance in a class. In this study, we investigated the results of a curricular intensification reform, which introduced changes in the distribution of student performance by making enrollment in certain courses mandatory. We investigated whether the reform resulted in changes in the relationship between standardized achievement-test results and teacher-assigned grades. We analyzed cohort control design data from two large representative samples of students from two German states (Baden-Württemberg: N=5,574; Thuringia: N=2,202) before and after the reform. Results indicated that students who received a certain grade before the reform (e.g., a grade of A, B, C, or D) differed in their standardized test performance from students who received the same grade after the reform. Furthermore, in math, course-level-specific reform effects on the association between grades and standardized test performance were found to vary between groups of students receiving good and poor grades. Implications for educational policy and school reforms and suggestions for grading are discussed.


Thomas Zimmermann

(Goethe University Frankfurt/Main)

Social Influence or Rational Choice? Two Models and Their Contribution to Explaining Class Differentials in Student Educational Aspirations

European Sociological Review, Online First Publication, October 26, 2019.

>> Abstract

Both the Wisconsin model of status attainment (WIM) and rational choice theory (RCT) indicate that social class differentials in student educational aspirations are partially determined by academic performance. Conditional on performance, the WIM predicts that social influence mechanisms explain the remaining class differentials, whereas RCT maintains that rational calculus factors provide the explanation. Both theories have rarely been compared directly using large-scale empirical data. Moreover, the appropriateness of these models has been questioned for highly stratified and selective educational systems such as Germany’s. In this article, we analyse the extent to which the WIM and RCT can explain the relationship between students’ social class origins and their educational aspirations. We use data from the National Educational Panel Study and analysed the aspirations of 4,896 ninth-graders in German schools along with data about their school performance, social class positions, social influences, and rational choice factors. Our mixed logit models largely confirm that both social influences and rational choice factors mediate class differentials. Five factors contribute the most: parents’ expectations, friends’ aspirations, the motive of status maintenance, costs, and perceived probability of success. This research confirms that both the WIM and RCT can each independently explain aspirations and class differentials in aspirations.


Daniel A. Kamhöfer, Hendrik Schmitz and Matthias Westphal

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf / Paderborn University / RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research Essen

Heterogeneity in Marginal Non-Monetary Returns to Higher Education

Journal of the European Economic Association, 17 (1), 205-244.

>> Abstract

In this paper we estimate the effects of college education on cognitive abilities, health, and wages, exploiting exogenous variation in college availability. By means of semiparametric local instrumental variables techniques we estimate marginal treatment effects in an environment of essential heterogeneity. The results suggest positive average effects on cognitive abilities, wages, and physical health. Yet, there is heterogeneity in the effects, which points toward selection into gains. Although the majority of individuals benefits from more education, the average causal effect for individuals with the lowest unobserved desire to study is zero for all outcomes. Mental health effects, however, are absent for the entire population.

Anke Heyder and Martin Brunner

TU Dortmund University / University of Potsdam

Teachers' aptitude beliefs as a predictor of helplessness in low-achieving students: Commonalities and differences between academic domains

Learning and Individual Differences, 62, 118-127.

>> Abstract

Low-achieving students are at risk of experiencing a pattern of emotional, motivational, and cognitive deficits called school-related helplessness if they attribute their low achievement to low aptitude. Teachers' beliefs about the causes of students' low achievement are important sources of attributional information for students. In a sample of 2117 German ninth-graders attending the lowest track, 118 math and 129 German-language teachers, we tested whether teachers' beliefs about the extent to which aptitude causes achievement moderated the achievement-helplessness relation in students and whether there were differences between math and German. Multilevel analyses revealed that low prior achievement predicted higher helplessness in both subjects but the effect was stronger in math than in German. Teachers' beliefs amplified the achievement-helplessness relation in math but not in German. Results are discussed regarding domain-specific epistemological beliefs, and implications for research and practice are derived.


Steffen Hillmert, Andreas Hartung and Katarina Weßling

University of Tübingen / Institut Wohnen und Umwelt Darmstadt / Maastricht University

A decomposition of local labour-market conditions and their relevance for inequalities in transitions to vocational training

European Sociological Review, 33 (4), 534-550./p>

>> Abstract

We investigate to what extent individual transitions to vocational training in Germany have been affected by local labour-market conditions. A statistical decomposition approach is developed and applied, allowing for a systematic differentiation between long-term change, short-term fluctuations, and structural regional differences in labour-market conditions. To study individual-level consequences for transitions to vocational training, regionalized labour-market data are merged with longitudinal data from the National Educational Panel Study, and multivariate transition-rate models are fitted. The results indicate that structural differences between regions have had significant effects on the transition behaviour of school leavers, whereas temporary crises have been of only minor relevance. Moreover, different groups have been affected to different degrees by varying labour-market conditions. We also highlight the usefulness of our decomposition approach for a broader set of applications.


Fabian Ochsenfeld

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU)

Preferences, constraints, and the process of sex segregation in college majors: A choice analysis

Social Science Research, 56, 117-132.

>> Abstract

The persistence of horizontal sex segregation in higher education continues to puzzle social scientists. To help resolve this puzzle, we analyze a sample of college entrants in Germany with a discrete choice design that allows for social learning from the experiences of others. We make at least two contributions to the state of research. First, we test whether essentialist gender stereotypes affect major selection mostly through internalization or rather as external constraints that high school graduates adapt their behavior to. Empirically, we find that internalized vocational interests better explain gendered major choices than conformance with friends’ and parents’ expectations does. Second, we scrutinize whether segregation results from women’s anticipation of gendered family roles or from their anticipation of sex-based discrimination, but we find no evidence for either of these hypotheses. As in most previous studies, differences in mathematics achievement fail to explain gendered patterns of selection into college majors.


Aileen Edele and Petra Stanat

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) / Institute for Educational Quality Improvement (IQB), Berlin

The role of first-language listening comprehension in second-language reading comprehension.

Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(2), 163-180.

>> Abstract

Although the simple view of reading and other theories suggest that listening comprehension is an important determinant of reading comprehension, previous research on linguistic transfer has mainly focused on the role of first language (L1) decoding skills in second language (L2) reading. The present study tested the assumption that listening comprehension in L1 is a significant predictor of language minority students’ reading comprehension in L2. In addition, we explored whether the cross-linguistic relationship is particularly pronounced at higher levels of L1 proficiency. The sample included 502 9th grade students with Russian as L1 and 662 9th grade students with Turkish as L1 from a nationwide study conducted in Germany. The L1s of these students differ in their similarity to their L2, German: Russian is considerably more similar to German than is Turkish. In both language groups, L1 listening comprehension significantly predicted L2 reading comprehension in linear regression models; this was also true after important control variables were taken into account. Polynomial regression models indicated that the relationship between L1 proficiency and L2 proficiency was linear in the Russian sample, yet stronger at higher levels of L1 proficiency in the Turkish sample. Thus, the prediction that transfer should be more pronounced at higher levels of L1 proficiency was also partly supported. Our study extends the range of L1 skills previously known to transfer to L2 reading. We found the predicted relationship between L1 listening comprehension and L2 reading comprehension in 2 language groups with varying degrees of language similarity, suggesting that the effect is language-independent. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)