Applied Microeconomics

Noncognitive Skills and the Gender Disparities in Test Scores and Teacher Assessments: Evidence from Primary School (with Chris Cornwell and David Mustard)

The Journal of Human Resources, 2013, 48(1): pp. 238-266. doi: 10.3368/jhr.48.1.236

Using data from the 1998-99 ECLS-K cohort, we show that the grades awarded by teachers are not aligned with test scores. Girls in every racial category outperform boys on reading tests, while boys score at least as well as girls on math and science tests as girls. However, boys in all racial categories across all subject areas are not represented in the grade distributions where their test scores would predict. Boys who perform equally as well as girls on reading, math, and science tests are graded less favorably by their teachers, but this less favorable treatment essentially vanishes when noncognitive skills are taken into account. For some specifications there is evidence of a grade "bonus" for boys with test scores and behavior like their girl counterparts.

The New SAT and Academic Performance at a Public Flagship University (with Chris Cornwell and David Mustard)

Chapter 8 in SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions, ed. Joseph Soares. Link.

Excerpt: The SAT and ACT are now fixtures in the college admissions landscape. They play a powerful role in quantifying academic merit. Complicating their use is the fact that scoring well on the SAT and ACT is strongly positively correlated with socioeconomic status. The growth in SAT and ACT prep courses both testify to the importance of the tests and reinforce the role of socioeconomic status in producing good scores. It was in this context that the College Board, in response to the University of California's criticisms, introduced the New SAT, adding a new Writing section (SATW) and a host of changes to the traditional Math (SATM) and Verbal (SATV) sections.

The interesting empirical question for admissions offices is not so much what the SAT measures, but whether it aids in predicting college performance. [...] Perhaps surprisingly, we find that, at the margin, SATV and SATM add little to the prediction of first-year college GPA and earned hours. SATW scores contribute to the prediction of the performance of White students, but for Black students none of the tests are shown to matter. What does matter for everyone is high school GPA and, to a lesser degree, AP credits. Prediction is also significantly enhanced by controlling for where a student attended high school, especially for Black students. The importance of the high school attended is potentially troubling, because Black students in Georgia are overrepresented in districts with lower average school quality. [...]

Sequential Decision-Making with Group Identity (with Elliott Ash) 

Journal of Economic Psychology, 2018.  69, 1-18.

In sequential decision-making experiments, participants often conform to the decisions of others rather than reveal private information – resulting in less information produced and potentially lower payoffs for the group. This paper asks whether experimentally induced group identity affects players’ decisions to conform, even when payoffs are only a function of individual actions. As motivation for the experiment, we show that U.S. Supreme Court Justices in preliminary hearings are more likely to conform to their same party predecessors when the share of predecessors from their party is high. Lab players, in turn, are more likely to conform to the decisions of in-group members when their share of in-group predecessors is high. We find that exposure to information from in-group members increases the probability of reverse information cascades (herding on the wrong choice), reducing average payoffs. Therefore, alternating decision-making across members of different groups may improve welfare in sequential decision-making contexts. 

All Politics is Local? Evidence from Foreclosures and Voter Participation

Do people change their political participation in response to local economic shocks? This paper shows how local economic shocks in the form of foreclosures affected voter registration and voter turnout in California from 2004-2012. I use the spatial variation in foreclosures across Census blocks, but within Census tracts, to estimate how political participation changed in response to foreclosures. I find that bank repossessed foreclosures increase the number of new voter registrations and increase voter turnout. Each bank-owned foreclosure increases the number of new voter registrations by 0.39-persons and increases voter turnout by 0.25 percentage points (0.42%). Registered Democrats are disproportionately more likely to turnout to vote in response to neighborhood foreclosures, so vote shares for Democratic candidates increase as well. The results suggest that foreclosures convey information about local economic conditions, which mobilizes neighborhoods to vote.