Leveraging Lotteries for School Value-Added: Testing and Estimation

Joshua Angrist, Peter Hull, Parag A. Pathak, Christopher Walters

NBER Working Paper No. 21748
Issued in November 2015, Revised in July 2016
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies

Conventional value-added models (VAMs) compare average test scores across schools after regression-adjusting for students’ demographic characteristics and previous scores. This paper tests for VAM bias using a procedure that asks whether VAM estimates accurately predict the achievement consequences of random assignment to specific schools. Test results from admissions lotteries in Boston suggest conventional VAM estimates are biased, which motivates the development of a hierarchical model describing the joint distribution of school value-added, bias, and lottery compliance. We use this model to assess the substantive importance of bias in conventional VAM estimates and to construct hybrid value-added estimates that optimally combine ordinary least squares and lottery-based instrumental variables estimates of VAM parameters. The hybrid estimation strategy provides a general recipe for combining non-experimental and quasi-experimental estimates. While still biased, hybrid school value-added estimates have lower mean squared error than conventional VAM estimates. Simulations calibrated to the Boston data show that, bias notwithstanding, policy decisions based on conventional VAMs are likely to generate substantial achievement gains. Hybrid estimates that incorporate lotteries yield further gains.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21748

Published: Joshua D. Angrist & Peter D. Hull & Parag A. Pathak & Christopher R. Walters, 2017. "Leveraging Lotteries for School Value-Added: Testing and Estimation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 132(2), pages 871-919. citation courtesy of

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