OECD: Retention doesn’t work

Countries in which schools frequently hold back or transfer low-performing students “tend to have weaker, more expensive, and more socially inequitable education systems,”according to a new analysis (pdf) by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

Differences in grade-retention rates explain as much as 15 percent of differences in scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 65 member and partner countries, OECD researchers concluded.

Retention rates vary significantly. U.S. schools retain more than one in 10 students.  That compares to fewer than 3 percent in Japan, Norway and Britain but 35 percent and up in Belgium, Portugal, Spain and France. Top-scoring Finland and Korea never retain students in the same grade, though both separate high school students into academic or vocational schools.

Researchers also found lower PISA scores for countries in which more schools reported they would transfer a student out of the school for low grades, special needs, or behavior problems. Ten of the countries studied reported about two of every five students attended a school “very likely” to transfer based on academics, while another 10 reported fewer than 3 percent of students attend schools that transfer for those reasons.

Retaining or transferring students can “reinforce socioeconomic inequities,” OECD researchers concluded.

Teachers in these systems may have fewer incentives to work with struggling students if they know there is an option of transferring those students to other schools. These school systems need to consider how to create appropriate incentives to ensure that some students are not “discarded” by the system.

In the U.S., Chicago and North Carolina recently ended bans on social promotion, notes Inside School Research. But Arizona and Florida now require retention for students who don’t meet third-grade reading benchmarks.



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