The effect of a World Cup on pupils’ effort and achievement

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics examines how leisure time can impact pupils’ effort and educational achievement by looking at the overlap of major football tournaments (the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship) with GCSE exams in England.

Using seven years of subject data on pupils in England, taken from the National Pupil Database, Robert Metcalfe and colleagues estimated the overall effect of a tournament by comparing within-pupil variation in performance during the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.

Overall, they found a negative average effect of the tournament on exam performance, as measured by whether pupils achieved a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE. In tournament years, the odds of achieving the benchmark of a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects fell by 12%. For pupils who are likely to be very interested in football (defined as likely to be white, male, disadvantaged pupils), the impact is greater, with the odds of achieving the benchmark reduced by 28%. This result is important as this group is already the lowest performing, with only 21.3% achieving a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE in non-tournament years.

An earlier study reported in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief also found that some pupils perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international football tournament taking place.

Source: Students’ effort and educational achievement: Using the timing of the World Cup to vary the value of leisure (January 2019), Journal of Public Economics, Volume 172

Diminishing impacts of double maths

This paper, published by Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, examines a sample of middle school (Year 7-9) children who were quasi-randomly assigned to either a maths remediation class schedule (taking two maths classes for one entire school year) or to a regular class schedule (taking one maths class and one class in some other subject). Findings showed that increasing the amount of time struggling pupils spend in maths classes did improve maths test scores, but the gains did not last in the long run.

Pupils were identified for the extra class if they scored below the 50th percentile on the 5th grade (Year 6) state maths test. Pupils who scored above the cut-off had just one maths class. For the roughly 80,000 middle school pupils in the sample county, the author obtained data on their annual test scores, class schedules, and demographics from 2003 to 2013.

At the end of the year, students who had double maths scored higher than their peers who had only one maths class. However, one year after returning to a regular one-class schedule, the initial gains decayed by as much as half, and two years later just one-third of the initial treatment effect remained.

The author concludes, “This pattern of decaying effects in the years following treatment is similar to alternative strategies for improving achievement, like reducing class size or improving the effectiveness of teachers. That similarity suggests a need to reconsider whether current remedial education strategies – characterised by short-lived increases in the quantity of instruction – are a cost-effective way to raise the maths achievement of students who currently lag expectations for their age.”

Source: Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School (2014), Journal of Public Economics, 117.