Chicago’s policy of flunking third-, sixth- and eighth-grade students who do poorly on state exams disproportionately harms black and Latino students, charges Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) which has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Students who are held back get discouraged and drop out, said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of PURE.
The threat of retention has pushed low-achieving students to work harder to raise achievement, said Elaine Allensworth, chief research officer at the University of Chicago‘s Consortium on Chicago School Research. But there is a down side.
“We saw and still see students held back two or three years and entering high school really old,” she said. “They have no chance of graduating by 18, and so there’s no way they are going to stay in school.”
Students may be required to attend summer school for scoring below the 24th percentile in reading and math, earning D’s or F’s in reading and math or having more than nine unexcused absences. Those who fail summer school must repeat the grade.
Retaining students cost up to $100 million in 2008, PURE estimates. The group wants students who are falling behind to get help before third grade. Nobody objects to that, but it leaves the problem of what to do about students who aren’t prepared to move on to the next level.