March 2024

IZA DP No. 16851: School Starting Age and the Social Gradient in Educational Outcomes

Yuejun Zhao, Simen Markussen, Knut Røed

Can lowering school starting age promote equality of opportunities and reduce the achievement gaps between pupils? We provide evidence on the heterogeneous (positional) effects on early school performance of two mandatory schooling reforms in Norway specifically aimed at reducing achievement gaps based on family background and immigrant status. Whereas the first reform reduced the school starting age from seven to six, the second changed the first-year curriculum from a play-oriented kindergarten pedagogy to a learning-oriented school pedagogy. We apply repeated simple difference models to evaluate the two reforms based on high-quality administrative register data, using children's grade point average (GPA) rank at age 15 to 16 and high school completion at age 21 as the main outcomes. We find no evidence that any of the reforms had the intended effect of reducing socioeconomic achievement gaps or immigrant-native differentials. Both reforms left educational inequalities more or less unchanged.