Economists: Higher grades in independent upper secondary schools indicate a need to grade national tests at the central level

Independent upper secondary schools give higher grades than municipal schools. This benefits students in independent schools but creates injustices if these grades do not reflect a higher level of knowledge, according to researchers Karin Edmark and Lovisa Persson in a new SNS report.

SNS Research Brief 88. Academic results and grading standards in independent upper secondary schools 36.1 KB PDF

Today, almost one in three upper secondary school students attend an independent school. Economists Karin Edmark and Lovisa Persson have studied what this means for individual students compared to attending a municipal school. In the report Academic results and grading standards in independent upper secondary schools, they show that students in independent schools generally seem to receive higher grades and more frequently go on to higher education. However, it is doubtful whether these higher grades fully reflect more knowledge.

“Just as in previous research, we find indications of more generous grading in independent upper secondary schools, especially in the ones operated as companies or with a low proportion of teachers with training in education,” says Karin Edmark, associate professor at Stockholm University.

For example, when compared to students in municipal upper secondary schools schools, students in independent schools receive higher grades than the grades they received on the corresponding national tests. They also get better results on national tests in English and Swedish, but not in mathematics. The latter, according to the researchers, could be due to the fact that teachers enjoy a higher level of freedom to make their own assessments in Swedish and English than in mathematics.

Regardless of why grades are higher in independent schools, they appear to have a positive effect on the long-term educational level of the students. Students having attended independent schools are more likely than others to initiate post-secondary education and get university credits corresponding to studying at least half-time.

“If students in independent schools are graded more generously, this means a distortion in the population attending higher education. This is a problem that deserves to be taken seriously, given that individuals may be admitted to programs they are unable to complete,” says Lovisa Persson, researcher at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) and Kristianstad University.

Karin Edmark and Lovisa Persson believe that there are good arguments for introducing grading at the central level when it comes to certain elements. It is also something that the Swedish National Agency for Education has recently studied on behalf of the government. Such a procedure for all upper secondary schools, regardless of how they are operated, improves the chances of more equal assessments of the students’ results. More reliable information on how knowledge develops also makes it easier to assess the impact of how schools are operated on the quality of education,” according to Edmark and Persson.

about the report

In the report, the researchers apply a method used in several previous studies. First, factors such as the students’ gender, overall grade in ninth grade, in which region they attended ninth grade and the country of birth of their parents are taken into account. Second, the added value generated by their respective schools is then measured while controlling for a wide range of background factors.

about the authors

Karin Edmark is an associate professor of economics at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), Stockholm University.

Lovisa Persson is a researcher in economics at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) and Kristianstad University.