Second-time success

Students who repeat a grade outperform similar students who are promoted, conclude Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute. Previous studies found repeaters lagged behind students who received social promotions, but didn’t account for all the factors teachers consider when deciding which low performer to hold back and which to promote. Greene and Winters looked at Florida third-graders who had to pass the state’s reading test to go on to fourth grade.

Students who performed below the required level and repeated third grade made significantly greater academic progress than similar students who were promoted despite their lack of skills. The benefit of being retained grew so that by the end of the second year the retained students entered fifth grade knowing more than the promoted students did leaving fifth grade — this despite the fact that the retained students had not yet been exposed to the fifth grade material.

A similar study in Chicago found retained students did no better or slightly worse than those who were promoted. The researchers suggest that how test-based promotion is implemented makes a difference in its effectiveness.

Via Constrained Vision.

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  1. I’ve long suspected the studies of retained students to be flawed. One factor is whether the student had circumstances that inhibited learning (family illness or moves, personal illness, lousy teacher – not that there are any, of course, or prior lack of knowledge or preparedness), or whether the lack of progress was indicative of deeper problems (ADD, ADHD, general lack of intelligence, laziness, etc.).

    If it was just a temporary thing, then retention could be just the thing needed.

    I’d like to see the promoted students evaluated the next year for causes, if they don’t significantly improve their performance. I suspect some kids needing special ed services are slipping through via social promotion.

    Finally, it’s not only the socially promoted students we have to consider, it’s also the effect of including them (who may include a higher percent of slackers, disrupters, etc.) in next year’s class. Dealing with their lack of preparedness slows the rest of the class down. I know – I teach.

  2. Is this the same study that was published in Education Next? If so it was terribly flawed in a number of ways:

    1) The Greene study measured a one-year effect. Ask anyone who works in the elementary grades and they’ll tell you that most retained kids do well that first year and then fall behind. To have any validity, I’d challenge Greene to revisit those kids after 8th grade.

    2) Dismissively waving off all the extant research on retention as flawed is weak, period. He didn’t offer much of a reason as to the why, and anyone who would take such a cavalier attitude towards the topic is someone I don’t think I can trust.

    There’s more to be found here:

    And haven’t you already commented about this?

  3. All of that “research” is of the rotten correlative variety. The confounding variable of bad teaching runs through all of it. The only legitimate conclusion you can draw from it is that in the presence of bad teaching, neither social promotion nor grade retention, are very effective in raising student achievement.