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Working paper
Políticas públicas
Zelda Brutti, Daniel Montolio

2024/03: Muddying the waters: How grade distributions change when university exams go online

We analyse how grade distributions change when higher education evaluations transition online and disentangle the mechanisms that help to explain the change observed in students’ results. We leverage administrative panel data, survey data and data on course plans from a large undergraduate degree at the University of Barcelona. We show that grade averages increase and their dispersion reduce. Changes are driven by students from the lower end of the performance distribution and by a reduction in the occurrence of fail grades; however, we do not find evidence for artificial `grade adjusting’ to explain the phenomenon. We are also able to dismiss shifts in the composition of test takers, improvements in teaching quality or in learning experiences and increases in Student engagement. While changes in the assessment formats employed do not appear to mediate the causal relationship between online evaluation and higher grades, we identify more dispersed evaluation opportunities and increased cheating as explanatory factors.



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