Years of retaining students for not meeting standards or for failing high-stakes exams has left Louisiana with almost a quarter of its school-age population having repeated a grade, according to a Hechinger Report article.
One study showed that 23% of students in the state have been held back, compared with 9% nationally. Another study, by the state board of education, showed that 40% of 8th graders who had repeated a grade didn’t even make it to high school. While the disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina contributed to these numbers, the state’s practice of retaining students has also played a part.
The state, however, has been gradually implementing programs to provide more academic support to students instead of retaining them. For example, it is piloting a “transitional 9th grade” that includes grade-level and remedial courses, and providing districts with guidance on how to implement alternatives to retention in 4th grade, when students are expected to pass a Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test in order to go to advance to 5th grade.
Most research on retention points to the negative effects of requiring students to repeat a grade, such as being more likely to drop out of school. But the design of studies over the years has sometimes left educators and policymakers with the impression that the damage isn’t that significant and that a hard line against social promotion is the best policy to adopt.
Newer research, however, compares students who were held back to a very similar sample of those who were not retained and finds that those who repeated a grade were 60% less likely to graduate from high school. Even if there is an initial boost in student performance after being held back, those gains seem to disappear as the stigma of being older than one’s peers likely leads to negative attitudes in general toward school.
Experts stress that whether educators decide to promote or retain, it’s important to have a range of strategies available to target the issues that are keeping students from being successful in the first place. Before and after-school programs, summer learning and preschool are among the interventions considered more effective than making students repeat a grade.