Breaking Ties: Regression Discontinuity Design Meets Market Design

Peer-reviewed Publication

Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Joshua D. Angrist, Yusuke Narita, Parag A. Pathak

January 2022

Many schools in large urban districts have more applicants than seats. Centralized school assignment algorithms ration seats at over-subscribed schools using randomly assigned lottery numbers, non-lottery tie-breakers like test scores, or both. The New York City public high school match illustrates the latter, using test scores and other criteria to rank applicants at the city’s screened schools, combined with lottery tie-breaking at the rest. The authors show how to identify causal effects of school attendance in such settings. Their approach generalizes regression discontinuity methods to allow for multiple treatments and multiple running variables, some of which are randomly assigned. The key to this generalization is a local propensity score that quantifies the school assignment probabilities induced by lottery and non-lottery tie-breakers. The utility of the local propensity score is demonstrated in an assessment of the predictive value of New York City’s school report cards. Schools that earn the highest report card grade indeed improve SAT math scores and increase graduation rates, though by much less than OLS estimates suggest. Selection bias in OLS estimates of grade effects is egregious for screened schools.