In tracked educational systems the choice of school track is one of the most crucial decisions in students’ lives. It has been shown that those who choose academic (or more selective) tracks tend to have a higher probability of continuing and succeeding in tertiary education, better employment opportunities and higher earnings. But do students and their families have all the relevant information they need to make a conscious choice? A new IZA discussion paper by Massimiliano Bratti, Martino Bernardi and Gianfranco De Simone tries to provide an answer to this question.
The starting point is data collected by an independent school track counseling service called Arianna, created by the municipality of Turin, the second largest city in Northern Italy. Arianna consists of a battery of tests able to measure cognitive and non-cognitive abilities of students in the final year of lower secondary school. Test scores along with other information collected from students and schools are used to give advice to students on the upper secondary school track that best matches their ability profile.
The paper demonstrates that the information and the recommendations provided by Arianna are indeed useful to students and parents. In fact, very often students tend to misperceive their actual ability, overestimating or underestimating their potential. As a result, students often choose tracks that stress their weaknesses instead of promoting their strengths. However, students and their families show an inclination to revise their initial enrollment intentions once new credible information is made available to them. When the Arianna program gives an indication of enrollment intentions not in line with the actual potential of the individual, the student and her family tend to change their initial choice accordingly and opt for a different track.
Furthermore, the findings suggest that those who make choices in line with the suggestions of the counseling services face a lower risk of retaining grades in the upper secondary education. Hence, the authors conclude that providing better information through counseling services may help to prevent failure and drop out in upper secondary education.