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Effects of the German G8 High School Reform: Gymnasium Students Are Graduating Younger, But More Students Are Repeating a Grade

Press Release of April 29, 2015

DIW Berlin expands empirical basis of G8 impact studies – data include Gymnasium graduation cohorts from 2002 to 2013 – Abitur graduation rates are not affected

Younger Gymnasium graduates, unaffected graduation rates, but more grade repetitions: These are the findings of a recent study conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), one of the leading economic research institutions in Germany, on the effects of the G8 high school reform, which reduced the total number of years German students spend in Gymnasium (Germany’s academic school track) by one year. According to the study, Gymnasium graduates are on average 10 months younger than they would have been prior to the reform. However, this reduction in the graduation age is less than the full 12 months by which the reform has shortened the time spent in Gymnasium. One reason for this discrepancy: More students are repeating grades, especially in the final years at Gymnasium. No significant effect of the G8 reform can be observed on the share of a cohort that graduates from Gymnasium with the Abitur (general university entrance qualification).

German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin)

The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) is one of the leading economic research institutions in Germany. Its core mandates are applied economic research and economic policy as well as provision of research infrastructure. As an independent non-profit institution, DIW Berlin is committed to serving the common good. The institute was founded in 1925 as Institut für Konjunkturforschung (Institute for economic cycle research). Since 1982, the Research Infrastructure SOEP (German Socio-Economic Panel Study), a long-term study, is affiliated to DIW Berlin. The institute has been headquartered in Berlin since its founding. As a member of the Leibniz Society, DIW Berlin is predominantly publicly funded.

"Fears that the G8 high school reform discourages students from taking the Abitur are just as unfounded as hopes that the shortened school length will lead to more students taking the Abitur," said the authors of the study, Jan Marcus and Mathias Huebener. Using administrative data from the German Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) encompassing Gymnasium graduation cohorts from the years 2002 to 2013, the DIW education economists investigated how one of the most controversial education reforms of the past few years has impacted key indicators of educational success. Meanwhile, some federal states that implemented the reform are returning to the previous system. Marcus and Huebener advise not to resort to actionism regarding changes to the number of years spent in school: "We are not able to conclusively assess the reform at this time. And we still cannot reliably say which effects the reform is having beyond school – for example, whether students’ leisure activities and social engagement have changed, or whether Gymnasium graduates are actually entering the labour market earlier."

Number of grade repetitions is increasing, especially in the final years of Gymnasium

An important question concerns which effects can actually be traced back to the reform. For example, the fact that more students overall are graduating from Gymnasium – which is completely independent of the reform – must be taken into account when examining the graduation rates. Another possibility is that today’s students are graduating younger than they were prior to the reform because children are entering school at a younger age. In order to factor out such distorting effects, Marcus and Huebener used a so-called Difference-in-Differences approach, which takes into account not only general changes in the outcomes, but also the influence of other educational reforms, such as the introduction of the centralized Abitur.

The multivariate analyses revealed that the G8 reform has only reduced the average age of students graduating from Gymnasium by an average of 10.3 months instead of a full 12 months, because – among other reasons – the probability of repeating a grade in Gymnasium has increased by 3 percentage points. Since nearly 15 percent of students, on average, would have repeated a grade during the course of Gymnasium before the reform, the rise of an increase in grade repetitions corresponds to roughly one-fifth. Boys are more affected by this development than are girls. Most of the additional grade repetitions took place in the final years of Gymnasium, which could also indicate that it is not necessarily the G8-induced workload intensification that is causing this change, but rather a tendency for students to voluntarily repeat a grade in order to alter their course selection or improve their performance on the Abitur.

Impacts of the G8 reform: Not just short-term transition effects

The effects of the G8 reform could also be demonstrated through an additional analysis over a longer period. "The rising rate of grade repetitions is not a short-term phenomenon that only occurs directly after the introduction of the G8 and decreases with more experience with this new type of schooling," explained Huebener. For example, even five years after the graduation of the G8-/G9 double graduation cohort, the age of Gymnasium graduates in Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – the federal states that implemented the reform first – had still not been reduced by a full 12 months. As well, the development of the grade repetitions rate did not weaken with increasing temporal distance from the implementation of the reform.