Working Papers

Primary- and middle-school teachers in South Asia overestimate the performance of their students

Sharnic Djaker, Alejandro J. Ganimian, Shwetlena Sabarwal

Abstract: Researchers have argued that teachers in developing countries do not devote enough attention to low-achieving students primarily because they face incentives to focus on their high-achieving peers. We use math and language achievement data for 1,500 students and survey data for 450 teachers across India and Bangladesh to highlight another potential explanation: most teachers do not know their students’ academic skills. We show that many teachers underestimate the share of low performers in their classrooms, and that they believe that those students will perform better than they actually do. These results are not driven by less educated, trained, or experienced teachers or explained by biases against female, low-income, or lower caste students. Instead, teachers seem to overweight the importance of students’ fluid intelligence.

Latest working paper

How can developing countries address heterogeneity in students’ preparation for school? A review of the challenge and potential solutions

Alejandro J. Ganimian, Sharnic Djaker

Abstract: Over the past two decades, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have rapidly expanded access to schooling by building new schools and making education more affordable. These expansions have included segments of the population in these countries that had remained at the margins of the school system. Yet, they also presented schools with a new challenge: how to educate larger and more heterogeneous student groups. In light of this heterogeneity in students’ preparation for school, this paper has four goals: (a) reviewing the evidence on the degree to which students of different preparation levels coexist in the same classrooms; (b) proposing a conceptual framework to understand why current incentives and capacity do not lead principals and teachers to address heterogeneity; (c) discussing the extent to which existing experimental and quasi-experimental evidence has addressed these constraints; and (d) identifying unexplained pieces of this puzzle and recommend future directions.

Latest working paper

Great things come to those who wait: Experimental evidence on performance-management tools and training in public schools in Argentina

Rafael de Hoyos, Alejandro J. Ganimian, Peter A. Holland, Sharnic Djaker

Abstract: In recent years, several studies have found that informing primary schools of their students’ achievement leads to changes in school management, instruction, and learning. We conducted an experiment in Salta, Argentina to understand whether school systems should go one step further and support principals to act on the information they receive. We randomly assigned 100 public primary schools to: a diagnostic-feedback group, in which we administered math and reading tests and made results available to principals; or a performance-management group, in which we also provided principals with training and an online dashboard to develop, implement, and monitor school-improvement plans. The intervention had limited impact on students’ performance in school during the study, but in the two years after it concluded, it reduced repetition rates in all target grades and it increased passing rates (reduced failure rates) for cohorts with two years of exposure. In fact, when we compare the schools in our study to other urban and semi-urban schools, they have lower dropout rates both during and after the study across all target grades. Our study suggests that school-management practices take a longer time to change than typically expected and highlight the importance of tracking post-intervention outcomes.

Latest working paper

Understanding inaccuracies in teachers’ beliefs about students’ academic skills in low- and middle-income countries – An ecological perspective

Sharnic Djaker

Abstract: Education research over the past 40 years has built a large knowledge base on teachers' ability to accurately asses of their students. However, nearly all the research in this field comes from high-income classroom settings. Recent empirical evidence from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) shows that teachers overestimate their students' performance levels. Drawing on the extensive literature on teachers’ judgment accuracy from high-income countries, I present a conceptual framework to understand the context for teachers in LMICs to hold beliefs with a higher degree of accuracy. I highlight how ecological factors ranging from the individual to the institutional and systemic may predict teachers’ belief accuracies in this setting. I argue that low accuracy in teachers' beliefs in LMICs could result from teachers' maladaptive adjustments to distinct ecological systems to varying degrees, and an ecological approach could offer a valuable framework for designing social interventions to improve instructional quality and student learning.

Latest working paper

Ground-truthing best-practices for Covid-19 learning recovery: Do teachers support global policy guidance?

Noam Angrist, Andres Yi Chang, Sharnic Djaker, Shrihari Ramachandra, and Shwetlena Sabarwal

Abstract: Covid-19 shuttered schools for over a billion children, resulting in substantial learning losses. Institutions such as the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF have issued considerable policy guidance on evidence-based best practices to recover learning losses. These include measures like extending instructional time, conducting remedial education classes, and regular learning assessments. How realistic is it to implement these best practices? In this paper, we provide some of the first empirical evidence of teachers’ awareness, willingness, and actual implementation of learning loss recovery programs. We collect ground truth estimates by directly surveying teachers across three countries: Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. We find a large gap between beliefs and implementation of learning recovery strategies. While over 80 percent of teachers believe strategies like formative assessments and remedial classes are essential for learning recovery only 50 percent, on average, are implementing them. We also find substantial untapped demand: 75 percent of teachers are willing to spend additional time on learning recovery policies. These results reveal that there is unrealized potential to increase uptake of learning loss recovery programs.