STATES RETAIN THIRD-GRADERS
Michigan joined the Third-grade Punishment Club in 2016 during the administration of Rick, “let-them-drink-lead,” Snyder. The 2019-2020 school year is the first year that third graders can be retained-in-grade for failing a state reading test.
Fewer than half the states in the US have laws that force the retention of third-graders who can’t pass an arbitrary reading test. Louisiana, for example, did have a retention law, but has rescinded it because it didn’t work. Good for them.
On the other hand, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Texas, and Indiana are among the several states which continue to punish students who don’t learn to read on the state’s timetable. They still retain students despite the fact that it doesn’t work.
In a study of the Florida retention law, students who were retained fared worse in the long term than if they hadn’t been retained.
1. How did state-mandated third grade retention policies, under the A+ Plan, impact standard diploma acquisition in retained students as compared to academically similar non-retained students?
- Students who were not retained were 14.7% more likely to receive a standard high school diploma.
2. How did the retained group compare to the similar non-retained group on the Grade 10 FCAT Reading?
- Both groups had difficulty catching up. In the retained group, 93% remained below proficient into their 10th grade year. In the non-retained group, 85.8% remained below proficient.
This is not the first piece of research showing that retention-in-grade doesn’t work…and is often harmful. The topic has been studied for decades and the results are consistent; Retention-in-grade doesn’t work…early intervention does.
SOME MICHIGAN SCHOOLS: JUST SAY NO
There is some good news. Some Michigan schools are refusing to participate in the “learn or be punished” process.
Some Michigan school districts are revolting against the state’s third-grade read-or-flunk law, saying they will do everything in their power to prevent students from repeating third grade because of low reading test scores.
…Education leaders immediately raised concerns about the retention portion of the law, pointing out that low-income students are more likely to be retained because test scores often correlate to income, and that studies are at best mixed on the long-term benefit of retention.
Flunking 5,000 third-graders would [cost] Michigan…taxpayers about $40 million because of the extra year in the k-12 system, an amount some educators argue could be better spent on early literacy efforts.
The sponsor of the Michigan bill, former Representative Amanda Price still favors it.
“The intent of the law was, starting in kindergarten, preparing children to read, so that when they reach third grade they wouldn’t need to be retained,” Price said. “Maybe I’m naïve to believe it only takes four years to teach a kid to read, but I think the normal parent thinks by end of third grade their kiddos should be reading.”
Should kids be reading “at grade level” by third grade? The Michigan law says that schools should retain kids who are reading more than one year below “grade level.” What does “grade level” mean?
Is Michigan’s definition of “grade level” the same as Indiana’s? Is the definition of “grade level” the same in Gross Pointe (average income >$100,000) as it is in Detroit (average income <$27,000)?
Not all children are the same and we shouldn’t expect them to be. We don’t expect all third graders to be the same height by the end of the school year. Why should we expect them to be at the same reading skill level?
Why is it only reading “grade level” that triggers retention? What about math “grade level” or music “grade level” or physical education “grade level” or behavior “grade level?”
And what if we retain a child in third grade and he still can’t read at “grade level” after a second year? Do we retain him again? How many times?
It’s the teachers, you say? Teachers should be able to get all their students to the same reading skill level by the end of third grade?
Should they? Didn’t we learn our lesson with No Child Left Behind when the law required us to have “all children proficient by 2014?”
There are external forces in children’s lives that have an impact on school achievement. Teachers have no control over things like a child’s food or housing insecurity. Teachers can’t be held responsible for a child’s lack of health insurance or lack of medical/dental care, Teachers can’t control the environmental pollutants in a child’s neighborhood.
Because America’s schools are so highly segregated by income, race, and ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving disadvantaged communities. These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs that negatively affect large numbers of our nations’ students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them.
Former Representative Price, and other legislators around the country who voted in favor of third-grade punishment laws, expect teachers to overcome out-of-school factors of a child’s life over which teachers have no control.
Perhaps the legislators think teachers aren’t trying hard enough. Perhaps they think that children won’t put forth any effort unless they are threatened.
Often the grade-level expectations are not accompanied by any change in teaching or school resources. Legislatures are tasked with the responsibility of providing adequate resources. Shouldn’t legislatures accept some of the responsibility for children’s achievement?
“We often hold kids accountable…In this case, with retention. We hold teachers accountable for not raising test scores. But the state legislature doesn’t hold itself accountable for putting the resources in place to make sure schools can meet the learning needs of kids.” — Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of education at UCLA
Legislators need to stop assuming that they know more about teaching than teachers.
Legislators need to stop passing laws that encourage schools to flunk little kids — eight- and nine-year-olds! Instead of wasting money on children repeating a grade and wasting money on those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad third-grade retention tests, let’s spend it on supporting kids’ needs in the years leading up to third grade.