- Repeating a grade is generally not associated with later suspension and chronic absenteeism, but students retained in middle school are more likely than those who were promoted to drop out, according to a new RAND Corp. study of the New York City Department of Education’s promotion policy between the 2003-04 and 2011–12 school years.
- Like many states and districts, the department had a policy stating that students who scored in the lowest category in math or English language arts had to attend summer school. Then, if they didn’t pass a “boundary” test at the end of the summer, they were retained unless they completed a portfolio demonstrating higher-level performance. For the study, the researchers compared those who did and didn’t pass the test.
- They also found that retained students were less likely than those promoted to earn the credits they needed for graduation and more likely to drop out late in high school, writing that the results suggest “that, on average, retention is not producing a benefit on high school attainment for the cost of an additional year of schooling.”
To eliminate social promotion while also recognizing the importance of reading by 3rd grade for later school success, states and districts began to institute retention policies, putting pressure on teachers in the early grades to make sure students passed high-stakes exams.
The RAND study shows that in the New York schools, students retained in 3rd through 5th grade were no less likely to graduate than students promoted on time. But other researchers, however, have found "scarring effects" of retention even when it's used as early as kindergarten. These effects for students include being more likely to drop out and losing confidence in their abilities.
The RAND researchers said the implications for schools is to consider retention only in the early years. But schools might also want to find ways to offer summer, tutoring or after-school programs that prevent students from being retained. For several years, for example, New Mexico has offered K-3 Plus, a voluntary program in which children in low-income and struggling schools can attend an extra 25 days of school. Jeannie Oakes a researcher from the University of California, Los Angeles, suggested to lawmakers in a finance committee meeting recently that making the program mandatory would further build on the program's success.