Carola GröhlichKarin Guill

How Stable are Reference Group Effects of Secondary School Track Recommendations?


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The transition from primary school to the different tracks of secondary school tracks is a crucial point in German education. At the end of primary school, teachers recommend which secondary school tracks their students should enter. These recommendations are supposed to accord with the students’ abilities. However, previous research shows that the recommendations also depend on reference group effects associated with the primary school class to which each student belongs. Students with equal competencies have less chance of being recommended for entry to a high track if they come from classes with a high average level of achievement than if they come from classes with a low average level of achievement. Hierarchical logistic regression analysis (HGLM) of data from the Hamburg longitudinal study KESS (Competencies and Attitudes of Students, N = 8 589) showed this same reference-group effect relative to teachers’ recommendations for secondary school tracks. However, the reference group effect did not hold for the parents’ actual choice of a secondary track. Nonetheless, the effect of the class-mean level of achievement in primary school on students’ allocations to secondary tracks re-emerged in Grade 7 as the school system in Hamburg accounts for a certain amount of student mobility across the secondary tracks during the Grade 6 to Grade 7 transition phase. Possible reasons, consequences, and implications for school practice are discussed.

school transition, reference group effect, HGLM