12th grade are taken into account in SRM grades

Placement decisions in the transition to upper secondary school - consequences of the changeover to the two-tier secondary school system in Berlin


A central trend in the development of educational participation in Germany is the continuous increase in the rate of those eligible for university entrance. With the transition from the secondary school system to a two-tier system, this expansion appears to be gaining new momentum. At the same time, the problem of standard security and the comparability of authorizations becomes visible. In a quasi-experimental design, the present article examines the structure of placement decisions and compliance with standards when access to upper secondary school is opened up using the case of the nationwide introduction of a two-pillar system in Berlin. With the structural reform, there was a sharp increase in the quota of upper-level access authorizations, which was accompanied by a reduction in performance requirements. The placement decisions of the teachers are based on the integration of different ratings. Cross-school and internal performance assessments as well as assessments of the motivation to learn and the work and school behavior of the pupils are included in the decisions. With the liberalization of the upper level access, the accuracy of the performance assessments across all locations remained stable despite the simultaneous lowering of the performance requirements required for the transition to the upper level. School-specific standards gained additional importance. The relevance of motivational characteristics did not change. The examination of the extent to which placement decisions are influenced by the organizational and social contextual conditions of the schools revealed a differentiated picture.


A developing trend in participation in the educational system in Germany over time has been the steady increase in the proportion of students eligible to enter higher education. Since the switch to a two-track secondary system, this development seems to have taken on new momentum. At the same time, problems have emerged with respect to the maintenance of standards and comparability of qualifications. In a quasi-experimental design, this article uses the introduction of a two-track secondary system in Berlin to examine the nature of teachers ’placement decisions, as well as maintenance of standards when opening up access to college-level programs. The structural reforms led to a jump in the proportion of students eligible for upper secondary education, associated with a drop in the required achievement level. Teachers ’placement decisions integrate various judgments: assessments of student achievement, judgments of cognitive abilities, and evaluations of students’ learning motivation and social behavior. Our results show that when access to the upper secondary track was opened up, the cross-school accuracy of teacher assessments of student achievement remained stable, despite the drop in the achievement level necessary to enter upper secondary education. School-specific measures became more relevant. There was no change in the relevance of motivational characteristics. Our analysis of the extent to which teachers' placement decisions were affected by the organizational and social context of the school revealed mixed findings.


Two long-term trends are characteristic of the development of the secondary school system in Germany. On the one hand, this is the decoupling of the nominal course of education and school leaving certificate, which has made a significant contribution to the opening of the structured school system (Baumert et al. 2003a; Schuchart 2006; Trautwein et al. 2008), and on the other hand, the establishment or expansion of alternative access routes to higher education entrance qualification outside the grammar school, which support the process of decoupling the type of school and qualification (Köller et al. 2004). Both developments have contributed to the increase in the rate of university entrance qualifications in Germany (authors' group on educational reporting 2016). In the last decade, this process seems to have gained additional momentum as a result of the conversion of the secondary school system to a two-tier system that has taken place or is in progress in most of the federal states, especially when a second, direct route to a gymnasium upper level and to the higher education entrance qualification is offered in addition to the grammar school (Holtappels 2017; Tillmann 2017).

In Germany school-leaving qualifications fulfill a double function: they certify school-based qualifications and at the same time entitle the holder to attend subsequent education or training courses. This applies to the general higher education entrance qualification as well as to the intermediate school leaving certificate (including the acquisition of the right to transition to the upper level of the gymnasium) or the secondary school leaving certificate or the vocational qualification. This connection between final qualification and access authorization is based on the tacit and to a certain extent counterfactual requirement that the award of degrees is based on comparable criteria and that the awarding institution ensures the equivalence of degrees both with regard to compliance with standards and with regard to the equivalence of the grades awarded guaranteed (Baumert et al. 2003b, p. 322). With the opening of the education system, the question of security arises from a meritocratic point of view common Standards.

The comprehensive school structure reform carried out in Berlin for the 2010/11 school year offers an opportunity to examine this question under the conditions of the school infrastructure of a large city. With the introduction of the two-tier system, the Berlin school structure reform created a two-pillar system in which two parallel forms of secondary school - the Gymnasium and the Integrated Secondary School (ISS) - with different curricular emphases, different teaching organization and at different intervals lead to all qualifications, including the general higher education entrance qualification. With this reform, the State of Berlin pursued, among other things, the goal of increasing the number of high school graduates in the long term (Berlin House of Representatives 2009). In order to facilitate the transition to the upper level of the gymnasium after the 10th grade and to make the path to the higher education entrance qualification recognizable in the second pillar as a uniform course of education, the ISS either have their own upper level or have a compulsory cooperation with an upper level of the gymnasium in the professional or general education school system.

However, before the transition to upper secondary school, there is a formal threshold at the end of the 10th grade: There has to be one Transitional authorization are granted, the performance requirements of which are coordinated across national borders (KMK 1993). After the transition from elementary school to secondary school at the end of secondary level I, the German school system has another high-performance hurdle that gains additional importance with the introduction of a two-pillar system.

Remarkably, this second transition is different with regard to social disparities in educational participation (Maaz et al. 2004, 2017; Hillmert and Jacob 2005, 2010; Trautwein et al. 2011; Combet 2013), but hardly with regard to the structure of decision-making and compliance of performance requirements (Trautwein et al. 2008; Neumann et al. 2017a). The most recent study by Neumann et al. (2017a), which is presented in more detail in the following review of the literature, analyzes the increase in the rate of transition entitlements associated with the system changeover and the increase achieved on the basis of a quasi-experimental accompanying study on the Berlin school structure reform (Maaz et al. 2013; Neumann et al. 2017b) Level of performance of the transitional beneficiaries. The present contribution follows on from the descriptive findings of this study using the same data set. In the following, the changes in the performance requirements for access to the upper secondary school level and potential changes in the structure of placement decisions when access to the higher education entrance qualification is opened up will be examined on a multivariate basis. The focus of the study is on the one hand the question of what services are provided at non-grammar schools before and after the school structure reform and in comparison to grammar schools for obtaining the right to transition to the upper level. On the other hand, based on existing studies on primary school transition, the question is asked which performance-related, motivational and school-contextual characteristics prove to be empirically significant for the transition eligibility and to what extent there have been changes in this regard as a result of the school structural reform.

Research situation

Opening up educational pathways for higher education entrance qualifications and ensuring comparable standards for placement decisions

In the German authorization system, opening up educational pathways leading to higher education entrance qualifications is linked to the question of ensuring standards and the equivalence of the awarding of grades. A number of studies from various federal states are now available for the general higher education entrance qualification, which show that both requirements are only met to a limited extent. Köller et al. (1999) demonstrated for the first time striking differences in performance and grades at upper levels of grammar schools and comprehensive schools in North Rhine-Westphalia. Similar findings then followed from Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein (Köller et al. 2004; Trautwein et al. 2007b; Leucht et al. 2016). For example, the mean mathematical performance level of the high school graduates examined in the TOSCA study (Köller et al. 2004) in Baden-Württemberg at vocational high schools with a socio-educational orientation was around d = 1.3 standard deviations below the performance level of general high schools (Watermann et al. 2004). The performance in the other vocational high school branches (agricultural, nutritional and economic science) was also significantly lower. Only at the technical grammar schools was a comparable level of performance achieved in mathematics as in the general grammar schools. The differences in performance between the high school branches were hardly reflected in the corresponding differences in grades (Watermann et al. 2004). In a similar way, performance deficits could also be demonstrated for upper school students at comprehensive schools in Hamburg compared to the general high schools (Trautwein et al. 2007b). This picture was repeated in Schleswig-Holstein when comparing the Abitur achievements at general and vocational high schools (Leucht et al. 2016). The major differences in performance are essentially the result of the different input selectivity when transitioning to the upper level. However, they make clear the tension between the opening of educational paths on the one hand and the securing of common performance standards and a distribution of certificates based on meritocratic principles on the other.

This does not only apply to the acquisition of the Abitur, but in a comparable way already to the granting of entitlement to transition to the upper level of the Gymnasium. Trautwein et al. (2008) investigated the transition from secondary schools on the one hand and the Progymnasium on the other to the upper secondary school at German-speaking schools in the canton of Friborg (Switzerland). On the basis of the comparison of test results, which, however, were already recorded at the end of elementary school and thus several school years before the transition to the upper level, they come to the assumption that the performance level of transitioners from both types of school differs systematically and different with the opening of the educational pathways Performance standards could apply. Trautwein et al. Report a similar finding. (2011) in their study on the opening of the secondary school system in Baden-Württemberg. They found that the mean level of basic cognitive skills of pupils with a transition eligibility for upper secondary school at Realschulen was about half a standard deviation below the corresponding value of secondary school students with transition entitlement (Tab. 2). Recently, Neumann et al. (2017a), on the basis of the data set on which the present work is based, examined the allocation of transitional entitlements for upper secondary school types to non-grammar school types before and after the school structure reform in Berlin. They documented an abrupt increase in eligibility rates of 17.6 percentage points after the structural reform and a decrease in the average performance of those with transitional entitlement, depending on the subject d = −0.13 (English), d = −0.17 (math) and d = −0.27 (reading German) standard deviations. The decline in performance appeared to be particularly pronounced in schools without upper secondary school. In addition, they report on the basis of exploratory analyzes the proportions of those with transition entitlement who remained below the performance level of the 8th percentile at grammar schools in all of the core subjects examined. They viewed this level of performance as the minimum expectation for a grammar school. The results showed that the stated performance expectations were not achieved by a considerable proportion (depending on the model, between 27 and 43%) of the pupils who were entitled to transfer to the ISS. It also became clear that the grading in the ISS extension courses was more liberal than in grammar schools. The relationship between test performance and the likelihood of receiving a transitional entitlement and the location of the critical performance threshold for granting the transitional entitlement, as well as the judgment components of the placement decision, were not examined.

Performance judgments and placement decisions by teachers

The granting of an authorization for the transition to the upper level of the Gymnasium is based - as is the type of school recommendation at the end of elementary school - formally based on judgments made by teachers in a collegial manner. The final decision is made in the class or year conference. In both cases, the placement judgments influence or decide school careers. Placement decisions in the transition from elementary school to secondary school in structured school systems are best studied. Surprisingly, comparable studies on the transition to upper secondary level are rare. We suspect that placement judgments by teachers at both transition thresholds are similar structure even if the diagnostic competence of teachers from different school types may differ (Karing 2009). Therefore, we first report the findings for transition recommendations at the end of primary school.

Various qualitative studies are now available that provide information on the decision-making criteria that teachers use when transitioning from primary school to secondary schools according to their own statements (Nölle et al. 2009; Pohlmann 2009; Böhmer et al. 2015). These studies show that teachers primarily use performance information (current performance status, performance development, but also the assessment of cognitive abilities), performance-related motivational characteristics (learning motivation, interest, willingness to exert), work behavior and self-regulatory skills (attention, concentration, reliability, emotional stability ), social behavior (willingness to help, ability to cooperate, general school behavior) as well as potential support in the family and the parents' wishes into account. Böhmer et al. (2015) were able to show in an experimental study on information retrieval behavior that performance-related information, including information on work behavior, is retrieved first and most frequently, followed by information on social behavior and parental support. Direct information on social and ethnic origin was used last.

Which of these judgment criteria that teachers consider relevant determine the placement decision was examined in various quantitative studies on the transition after primary school (cf. for a summary Dumont et al. 2014; Klapproth et al. 2013). In these analyzes, performance-related information (grades, test performance, basic cognitive skills) turned out to be the most important predictors (Bos et al. 2004; Baeriswyl et al. 2006; Arnold et al. 2007; Driessen et al. 2008; de Boer et al. 2010 ; Neugebauer 2011; Schneider 2011; Stubbe et al. 2012; Dumont et al. 2013a; Klapproth et al. 2013). It is noteworthy that test performances and basic cognitive skills - i.e. information that is usually not directly available to teachers - make significant specific explanatory contributions for placement judgments in addition to the school grades. This also applies to basic cognitive skills when checking grades and Test performance (Bos et al. 2004; Arnold et al. 2007; Driessen et al. 2008; de Boer et al. 2010; Stubbe et al. 2012). The effect sizes are small, however. These findings indicate that when teachers make judgments, performance aspects and assessments of the general cognitive abilities of pupils are definitely taken into account across all classes and schools Not can already be expressed in the notes. In addition, there are the work behavior, motivational orientations and school-relevant personality traits of the students as well as the potential support in the parental home and the parents' wish to go to school.Social behavior, which was taken into account in two studies, was not found to be predictive.

Accuracy of performance judgments and placement decisions

Placement decisions are primarily, but not exclusively, based on performance-related judgments. The accuracy of performance assessments in particular is an indicator of the diagnostic competence of teachers (Spinath 2005; Artelt and Rausch 2014). Schrader and Helmke (1987) have distinguished three components of judgment in this regard: the level component, which relates to the tendency to systematically overestimate or underestimate student characteristics, the differentiation component, which relates to the correct assessment of the scattering of characteristics, and the rank component, which is used to record, To what extent teachers correctly assess the ranking of students with regard to the expression of a characteristic. The rank component is considered in the literature as the “central accuracy indicator [...] and as a measure of diagnostic sensitivity in the true sense” (Spinath 2005, p. 86). If in the following, following the usual use of the term, accuracy is spoken of without further specification, this judgment component is meant.

If one takes the correlation between teacher judgment and objectively measured test performance as a measure of the accuracy of the judgment, the majority of the relevant studies come to the conclusion that teachers are, on average, good diagnosers of student performance. Südkamp et al. (2012) report in their meta-analysis a mean correlation of r = 0.63. The findings of an earlier meta-analysis by Hoge and Coladarci (1989) are of a similar order of magnitude. As Südkamp et al. (2012) continue to show that the accuracy of informed judgments falls with a mean correlation of r = 0.76 higher than judgments with a weak information base (r = 0.61). These findings are significant for the present study. Because decisions about career recommendations or the award of access certificates are based on informed and reflective decisions that are made with the help of a wide range of performance information.

Special studies on the accuracy of placement decisions in the sense of the rank component of the judgment accuracy of teachers (correlation between beforehand measured test performance and decision), with the exception of the new work by Steinmayr et al. (2017) who found a correlation of r = 0.43 and correlations of r = 0.51 or r = 0.48 report, to our knowledge not before. However, the question plays a role in all investigations into the determinants of placement judgments reported in Sect. 2.2. Here, objective test performance is one of the strongest predictors of placement decisions. Within the scope of the investigation of the prognostic validity of elementary school recommendations, three papers can be found that examine the relationship between recommendation and later Address the test results achieved.Footnote 1 For Hamburg (KESS study) Ivanov and Nikolova (2010) report differences in performance in orthography and mathematics between high school students with and without a corresponding recommendation of d = 0.87 in the 7th grade. This corresponds to a point-bisiserial correlation between transition recommendation and test performance of approximately r = 0.40. In Bavaria and Hesse (longitudinal section of the BIKS), Pfost et al. (2017) in a comparable study in mathematics performance differences of d = 0.57 and in reading of d = 0.37. The corresponding correlations are r = 0.27 and r = 0.18. Klapproth et al. (2013) for Luxembourg. On the basis of test values ​​obtained in the 9th grade in the subjects German, French and mathematics, they divided pupils into two groups at the intersection of the performance distributions of the academically and professionally oriented school types (this roughly corresponds to a median split) and compared them the assignment with the transfer recommendations of the primary school teachers at the end of the 6th grade. They come to a misclassification of 21%. According to the binomial effect size measure proposed by Rosenthal and Rubin (1982), this corresponds to a point-biserial correlation of r = 0.58. With the exception of the Luxembourg study, however, the restriction applies to this work that false-negative decisions could not be taken into account and the information therefore only relates to one type of school.

Social contexts, performance judgments and placement decisions by teachers

Teachers' performance judgments also depend on social contexts. This applies equally to the award of grades and placement decisions. Above all, it was investigated to what extent the performance, social and ethnic composition of school classes or schools influences the level of performance judgments made by teachers. On the other hand, there is hardly any work that examines the effects of compositional features on the accuracy of teachers' judgments in terms of the rank component - a question that is particularly relevant for this article.

Overviews of the research on level effects are given by Neumann et al. (2010), Dumont et al. (2013b) and Westphal et al. (2016). The findings are relatively clear with regard to the performance-based composition of reference groups internationally and nationally: A reference group effect can regularly be demonstrated, in which the application of a group-internal benchmark leads to the individual judgments with increasing performance level of a group when the average performance of groups varies be stricter compared to the same performance in weaker groups. The reference group effect can be consistently demonstrated both in the allocation of grades and in course recommendations (already Marsh 1987, p. 288; Dompnier et al. 2006; Trautwein et al. 2007a; Tiedemann and Billmann-Mahecha 2007; Maaz et al. 2008; Caro et al. 2009; Gröhlich and Guill 2009; Wagner et al. 2009; Hochweber et al. 2014; Westphal et al. 2016; Meissel et al. 2017). Südkamp and Möller (2009) were also able to show this effect experimentally in their simulated classroom.

Ready and Wright (2011) found different findings in the kindergarten cohort of Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-K (ECLS-K). Their evaluations showed that the language development of the children increases as the performance level of a learning group increases aboveestimates and accordingly if the level of performance declines underis appreciated. You conclude that there is a generalization effect.

With regard to the social and ethnic composition, the findings are mixed. In a series of studies, a generalization effect emerged with regard to the social composition of the respective reference group: the higher the average social status of the reference group, the more positive the performance judgments of the teachers. This applies to both the award of individual grades and placement decisions (Maaz et al. 2008; Gröhlich and Guill 2009; Schulze et al. 2009; Ready and Wright 2011; Hochweber et al. 2014; Westphal et al. 2016). Tiedemann and Billmann-Mahecha (2007) and Wagner et al. (2009).

With regard to the ethnic composition of school classes, the results are contradicting. Tiedemann and Billmann-Mahecha (2007), Schulze et al. (2009), Ready and Wright (2011) found no ethnic composition effect, while Caro et al. (2009) found a positive effect in a reanalysis of the ELEMENT data. Martínez et al. (2009) report inconsistent findings.

Of particular interest are the few studies that analyze the relationship between the composition of the study group and the accuracy of performance assessments. Martínez et al. (2009) were able to show for third and fifth graders of the ECLS-K study that the accuracy of the performance assessments decreased as the proportion of pupils with poor knowledge of English (LEP) increased. The only study on this topic in Germany by Hochweber et al. (2014) reported a non-linear positive relationship between the performance-based composition of a school class and the accuracy of the grading in mathematics. In contrast, the average level of education of the parents in a school class did not change the accuracy of the marks.

Development and differentiation of the questions

Following the descriptive findings by Neumann et al. (2017a), the aim of this article is to examine the systematic shifts in the critical performance threshold for the transition to upper secondary school and the structure of placement decisions and their changes associated with the Berlin school structure reform on a multivariate basis. The questions are specified in the following.

Components of the decision on the transition eligibility for the upper secondary school level

The granting of the transitional authorization for the upper school level is formally based on a collective decision of the class or year conference. In contrast to the transition recommendation at the end of primary school, which is intended to optimize the fit between the individual level of development and the requirements of the secondary schools, the transition authorization for the upper school level primarily has quality assurance functions. The intermediate school leaving certificate (MSA) is a necessary prerequisite for the issue of a transitional authorization. Qualifying conditions are the promotion to the 11th grade at the grammar school and certain combinations of courses with a higher level of difficulty at schools with several educational programs and the fulfillment of minimum requirements in the subject grades at all school types. The detailed and complicated transfer regulations before and after the school structure reform are shown in the appendix (see also Neumann et al. 2017a in detail).

The discretion of teachers at the end of lower secondary level is extremely limited compared to the recommendation for elementary school. If the formal requirements are met, the transitional authorization must be granted. At this point in time, discretion only plays a role in borderline cases. The real one educational The decision about the transfer to the upper secondary school level is prepared at schools with several courses of education and thus at all ISS in Berlin at the end of the 9th grade, if via the allocation to the courses or course levels necessary for the qualifications of the 10th grade and thus also a decision is made on the approximate grades to be expected. So if you want to ask about the selection mechanisms on the threshold to the upper secondary level in non-secondary schools, it is advisable to look at the situation at the transition to the 10th grade. The granting of transitional entitlements to upper secondary school is a decisionprocess, which extends over a school year and is concluded in the formal decision. We expect largely the same in this decision-making process explicit and implicit Judgment criteria are used that could be identified when the primary school recommendation was awarded (see Section 2.2). Against this background, we examine in this article to what extent the receipt of the transitional authorization for the upper secondary school can be predicted by the following factors:

  1. 1.

    Cross-school performance standards that can be described using the relationship between objective performance and ability tests and the allocation of authorizations,

  2. 2.

    School-internal performance aspects related to the year, which are expressed in the ranking of the grades, as well as

  3. 3.

    motivational characteristics and the work and school behavior of the students.

Granting of transitional entitlements at grammar schools and non-grammar schools: relationship between performance and placement decision

According to the idea, the grammar school is a uniform, academically oriented course of education that leads from the completion of elementary school to the Abitur, even if all other school qualifications can be achieved in the grammar school. The transitional selection at the end of primary school is intended to ensure that this goal can also be achieved by the vast majority of high school students. In this context, the granting of transitional authorization for the upper secondary school level is a formal hurdle that should not cause any particular problems to be overcome. Pupils at non-grammar schools whose modal school goal is not the Abitur but the MSA are in a completely different situation. Here, the granting of transitional entitlement is a selection threshold that only a minority will and can overcome. Accordingly, the basic rates of transitional entitlements in Berlin in the year studied before the school structure reform in the 2011/12 school year were around 96% in grammar schools and 24% in non-grammar schools (cf. Neumann et al. 2017d).

The results of Neumann et al. (2017a, 2017