Florida has me riled up again. A few days ago Peter Greene reported about the continuing mess in Florida about retention in grade of third graders who don’t pass the #%@! standardized reading test.
Before I comment on that let’s look at retention in grade…
RETENTION IN GRADE DOESN’T WORK
Initial achievement gains may occur during the year the student is retained. However, the consistent trend across many research studies is that achievement gains decline within 2-3 years of retention, such that retained children either do no better or perform more poorly than similar groups of promoted children. This is true whether children are compared to same-grade peers or comparable students who were promoted.
Jackson (1975) reviewed 44 studies that met a minimal set of methodological criteria. Finding few with significant results or even compelling patterns, he concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support the claim that grade retention is more beneficial than grade promotion. About 10 years later, Holmes and Matthews (1984) reviewed an additional 44 studies that all included some type of comparison group of students. These researchers concluded that promoted students had higher academic achievement, better personal adjustment, and more positive attitudes toward school than retained students did.
Moving ahead another 17 years, Jimerson (2001) summarized the historical research and added a carefully culled set of studies conducted between 1990 and 1999, all of which included comparison groups of promoted students. Most of the comparisons showed no significant differences between promoted and retained students on measures of achievement or personal and social adjustment. In those studies that did show a difference, the results favored the promoted students, especially on measures of achievement.
RETENTION IN GRADE IS A BIG WASTE OF MONEY
In their 2014 book, 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools, David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass asked, “Does flunking students waste money?”
Yes. Retention in grade is not optional in about 13 states and in many school districts. Many jurisdictions have mandated retention for children not reading at grade level, usually based on a test given at 3rd grade. States and districts with this policy, therefore, have agreed to spend an extra year’s cost of schooling on a child not performing well on standardized tests. This currently averages out to about $11,000 per child annually in our nation’s public schools. With at least 5 million children in the system who have been left back at least once, and the commitment of American schools to an average of $11,000 per child per extra year of schooling, the United States could be spending $55 billion annually on a policy that doesn’t work well for most children.
RETENTION IN GRADE CAN BE HARMFUL TO STUDENTS
• In adolescence, retained students are more likely to experience problems such as poor interactions with peers, disliking school, behavior problems, and lower self-esteem.
• Students who were retained are 5–11 times more likely to drop out of school. The probability is even higher for students who are retained more than once. Actually, grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school drop out.
• For most students, grade retention had a negative impact on all areas of achievement (e.g., reading, math, and oral and written language) and social and emotional adjustment (e.g., peer relationships, self-esteem, problem behaviors, and attendance).
• A study of sixth graders’ perceptions indicated that they consider retention as one of the most stressful life events.
A new study ,“The Scarring Effects of Primary-Grade Retention? A Study of Cumulative Advantage in the Educational Career,” by Notre Dame sociologist Megan Andrew, published Sept. 26, 2014, in the journal Social Forces is an empirically solid analysis that adds more weight to those who say retention — what education wonks call repeating a grade — is ultimately harmful.
WHY WE RETAIN STUDENTS – A FALSE DICHOTOMY
Let’s summarize. Retention…
- …doesn’t work
- …wastes money
- …harms students
So why do we continue to do it?
Reason number one for teachers favoring retention in grade: “The student needs a year to ‘catch up.'” It may seem like it works in the year immediately following retention, but it doesn’t last.
Reason number two for teachers: “We don’t have any other options. Lack of money means that there aren’t enough specialists to help the kids who really need it. Special education is not indicated for every child who has difficulty reading. We didn’t have money for anything which could have helped three years ago when these kids were in kindergarten (or earlier in Pre-K programs), and now we’re stuck without anything else to do.”
Reason number three, the false dichotomy favored by legislators, pundits, and others who don’t know squat about developmentally appropriate instruction and education: “Social promotion doesn’t work and we have to do something!”
And reason number four for the same population, “We’re using the tests (which I support because I get campaign contributions from testing companies) for ‘accountability.’ ‘Accountability’ needs consequences.”
WHAT DOES WORK? – EARLY INTERVENTION
An argument against early intervention is that it’s too expensive. In fact, early intervention is poorly funded in most states because we’re a nation that doesn’t look forward. We only react to things when they happen. In addition, we’re not willing to pay for our future. The middle class is tired of being taxed to pay for everything which benefits society while the top 1% avoids its tax responsibility.
However, when compared to retention, early intervention is a bargain. Russ Walsh explains in his blog entry, Attention, Not Retention
It costs, on average, about 11,000 dollars to retain a child (the cost of an extra year of school). By not retaining children, schools will save thousands of dollars in costs, not to mention all the human costs related to high drop-out rates and behavior issues related to retention. With this money schools need to give students the attention they need, in the form of programs that Berliner and Glass, among others, have found to be effective. Individual tutoring, summer programs and early intervention programs, such as Reading Recovery, have been shown to be effective ways to provide struggling students with the attention needed to “catch-up.” For high-poverty areas, the money could also be better spent on early childhood programs, wrap around health programs and smaller class sizes.
FLORIDA STILL REQUIRES THE PUNISHMENT OF 8 AND 9 YEAR OLDS
…as does Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington. Other states – Colorado, Maryland, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia – encourage it, though it’s not required. Different hoops are needed to avoid it in various states. See K-3 Quality: Is there a third grade retention policy?
These states and Florida, demand retention in grade of third graders for not learning quickly enough, or not being able to pass a standardized reading test. Retention in grade isn’t remediation. Retention in grade punishes children for the failures of adults.
Some school systems in Florida are telling parents who choose to opt their children out of the third grade reading test, that their children will not be allowed in fourth grade no matter what proof they can give of their child’s ability to read. Portfolios won’t work. Report Cards don’t matter.
Some of these same people – legislators, politicians, edupreneurs – will insist that all parents be given “choice” when it comes to funding for charter schools and vouchers. “Choice” for privatization means more tax money for private corporations. No “Choice” for testing means more tax money for testing companies. Follow the money.
On Labor Day, 2016, Peter Greene, wrote,
This is the kind of spectacle you get when you insist on enforcing a stupid law, and the law that says students must pass the Big Standardized Test in order to move on to fourth grade is a deeply stupid law, without a shred of science to back it up. But this is the hill on which the state has decided to fight the opt out battle, hoping that a battery of nuisance motions and legions of taxpayer-financed lawyers will somehow beat these children and their families down so that finally the Supreme Test Gods can receive their proper homage. [emphasis added]
Legislators and politicians in Florida and other states have decided that children…8 and 9 year old children…must be punished because adults…
- don’t understand the developmental aspects of reading
- have failed to put in place sufficient interventions for students who struggle
- are so tied to testing – either through misinformation, or monetary connections – that they allow this child abuse
We ought to spend money on things that will actually help children instead of wasting money lining the pockets of testing companies.
Unfortunately, children who struggle with reading don’t make campaign contributions.