The Effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Vocational College Students’ Performance in High-stakes Exams

A growing literature discusses negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on college students’ learning outcomes. We extend this literature to vocational education and study the effect of the first phase of the pandemic on students’ performance in high-stakes state exams across 31 Israeli vocational colleges. Two substantial advantages of this setting over previous studies are that exams were taken in person rather than on-line and that they were graded centrally and thus, were not exposed to subjective grading behavior. We estimate a difference-in-differences model, comparing early and late exams within students and across cohorts. While official grades increased due to a change in the maximum score, students’ overall knowledge and exam attendance decreased. Poor internet access is the most likely driver of these negative effects compared to low socioeconomic status, more online learning, and higher infection rates.