How Do High-Stakes Educational Transitions Affect Socioeconomic Achievement Gaps? An International and Historical Comparison
Anna Chmielewski

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



OISE/University of Toronto

Primary Discipline

Comparative Education
Chmielewski’s project will examine whether socioeconomic gaps in literacy and numeracy skills observed in childhood persist into adulthood in 18 developed countries. In particular, she is interested in the extent to which international assessments such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)—administered to students around age 14 or 15—fail to capture the effects of unequal institutions that students encounter just after the end of compulsory schooling. For example, students in many Nordic countries encounter a high-stakes educational transition into academic or vocational tracks at age 16. At age 18, US students enter (or not) one of the most stratified higher education systems in the world. Using 21 historical and contemporary international assessments conducted between 1964 and 2009 and three international adult literacy surveys conducted between 1994 and 2011, she matches cohorts by birth year (1950-1990) and parental education level in all 18 countries. This allows a test of the hypothesis that countries with high-stakes transitions into upper secondary or postsecondary education will experience increasing SES achievement gaps between childhood and young adulthood, while continental European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands with high-stakes transitions around age 10 or 12 will experience no further increase in SES achievement gaps.
About Anna Chmielewski
Anna Katyn Chmielewski is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto. She holds a PhD in Education and MA in Sociology from Stanford University. Chmielewski’s research examines trends and patterns of educational inequality, both internationally and over time. Specifically, she is interested in socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement, school segregation, curricular differentiation/tracking/ability grouping, university access, and the consequences of childhood inequality for adult skills and other outcomes. Her research has been published in the American Educational Research Journal and the American Journal of Education. Chmielewski was a postdoctoral fellow in the Pathways to Adulthood program at Michigan State University and a Thomas J. Alexander fellow at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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