I study the potential effects on student performance to be expected from setting mandatory standards in primary and secondary education. To that end, I present a model in which investment in education is indivisible. Thus, if demand exceeds supply at any level of education, allocation is carried out--at least in part--via test scores. The model highlights how the effectiveness of educational standards in altering student performance depends on the college and secondary school education premia, the stringency of standards, and the supply of college education--factors which together determine the competitiveness of college admissions. A relatively high college education premium raises the incentive to finish high school and apply to college, but the marginal benefit of meeting standards or the cost of non-compliance depend on the secondary education premium. Thus, the effects on student performance if education standards are raised may be relatively small when the secondary education premium is relatively low. Moreover, when the supply of higher education is relatively abundant so that college entrance is a non-competitive process, students' incentive to make their best effort diminishes, and in that case, the role of education premia--and therefore of standards--as incentives may be limited.
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Last update: July 19, 2001