Upper secondary tracks and student competencies: A selection or a causal effect? Evidence from the Italian case

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This piece of research examines whether Italian students’ choice of educational track has a causal effect on general skills in reading and mathematics.

The research, which relies on a population-level longitudinal dataset, looks at the choices students make at age 14 between four tracks: classical and scientific studies, a general humanistic track, technical, and vocational education. When other factors are taken into account, do they affect progress in key subjects?

The conclusion is that these decisions do make a difference: students with similar achievement profiles who study a classical or scientific curriculum make better progress in reading and in mathematics than those who choose other tracks. The effect, the researchers find, is stronger in mathematics than in reading and is homogeneous among students with different socio-economic background.

The study has important policy implications: well-targeted information aimed at increasing enrolment in academic schools for proficient working class students might have the potential to reduce social inequalities in competence development, thereby improving their success in higher education as well.

This is part of a special issue prepared by the LIFETRACK project. Other articles of this special issue can be found here.