Do retention policies hold too many students back?
- Louisiana’s policy of retaining students who fail to pass standardized tests in 4th and 8th grades has resulted in roughly one-third of students in the state being retained at least once during their K-12 career, according to the Education Research Alliance at Tulane University.
- According to The Hechinger Report, the history of the policy was meant to correct the consequences of social promotion, but has instead produced other consequences of its own as retained students are less likely to graduate from high school.
- In 2017, the Louisiana State Legislature voted to end the retention policy and is now offering alternative supports to failing students including summer learning, online classes and extra attention from specialized teachers.
The recent retention experiment in Louisiana illustrates the frustration educators and lawmakers face in determining the best way to promote learning for students. While promoting those who are not ready for the next grade has its own set of pitfalls, retaining students who don’t meet benchmarks and standards also seems to present its own social and educational challenges including a higher risk of dropping out. The issue of retention has become more widespread as more states hold students back in connection with new reading laws.
The effects of retention on students are hard to truly measure because researchers find it difficult to separate cause and effect. Experts says that the challenge is to identify the effect of retention from the other reasons why the student began struggling in the first place.
The issue is one reason that many educators are now looking at alternatives to grade-level advancement, such as competency-based assessments that are better suited to personalized learning. Abolishing grade levels altogether may remove the stigma of retention while allowing students to advance in some areas while receiving additional support in areas where they need more help. As educators continue to discuss these issues in light of current educational technologies and strategies, the retention debate may become a discussion of the past.
- The Hechinger Report Louisiana ends policy that held thousands of students back a grade or more