Edited by Neri Salvadori and Arrigo Opocher
Valentino Dardanoni and Salvatore Modica 5.1. INTRODUCTION School grades are a signal of cognitive competence, and as a message it is received by potential employers and universities. University degree scores are signals of higher proficiency for the labour market. In addition, evaluating students’ cognitive achievements is increasingly important for policy makers1 and to assess the impact of education on economic growth.2 How informative are these signals? We briefly report a few empirical results which suggest that in Italy there is some room for improvement, in the direction of some form of standardization. In particular, we describe the results on school grades contained in Dardanoni et al. (2007), and report preliminary data on degree scores for some faculties at the University of Palermo. It may be argued that the problem is alleviated by the presence of other signals, such as direct cognitive ability tests like those provided in the PISAOECD surveys or those used for university admissions. But while this is true for school students, university scores cannot have such substitutes. And even for the case of lower education, the measurement of achievements by cognitive tests raises difficult problems, since no test is perfect, and repeated tests carry the risk that ‘only what gets measured gets done’. Grades, on the other hand, are costless, abundant, frequent and population-wide; but to be useful they should accurately reflect underlying competence, since the lower their information content, the higher the signalling noise generated by the sender and the de-codification costs incurred by the receiver....
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