The recent surge in admission reforms across selective US schools has been a source of much debate. The achievement consequences of these reforms hinge on which students benefit from attending selective schools. The researcher shows that Boston exam schools have heterogeneous effects on achievement, driven primarily by the quality of applicants’ non-exam school alternatives rather than their demographic characteristics. Admission policies prioritizing students with weaker schooling alternatives thus have more potential to increase academic achievement than policies targeting specific demographic groups. Simulations of alternative admission criteria suggest that schemes reserving seats for such students are likely to yield the largest gains.
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