The final straw: High school dropout for marginal students

42 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021

Date Written: December 20, 2020


Abstract We investigate the consequences of failing a high-stakes exam in Norwegian high schools. Second-year high school students are randomly assigned to either a locally graded oral exam or a centrally graded written exam. Students assigned to written exams consistently receive lower grades and have a greater probability of failing, particularly in the case of already low-performing students. Because passing the exam is required to obtain a high school diploma, this translates into a reduction in high school graduation rates that remains significant over time, permanently shifting a group of marginal students into dropping out of high school altogether. We show that these marginal students are severely disadvantaged across several dimensions, even more so than dropouts in general. Our analysis of what predicts dropout among these marginal students suggests that effective policies for combating high school dropout should target students exclusively on the basis of poor academic performance, rather than other measures of disadvantage such as socioeconomic status, even though these characteristics are associated with dropout among students in general.

Keywords: Exam type, high school dropout, school performance

JEL Classification: I21, I26, J24

Suggested Citation

Eckhoff Andresen, Martin and Løkken, Sturla A., The final straw: High school dropout for marginal students (December 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Martin Eckhoff Andresen

Statistics Norway

N-0033 Oslo

Sturla A. Løkken (Contact Author)

Statistics Norway ( email )

Kongens Gt. 6
PO Box 8131 Dep
N-0033 Oslo

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