Most failing students are promoted to the next grade, despite laws and policies banning social promotion, reports Molly Callister on the Hechinger Report. Retention rates hovered around 2.7 percent from 1995 to 2005 and declined to 1.5 percent in 2009, according to a new study.
California’s education code says students must repeat the grade if they fail promotion “gates” at second, third, and fourth grades and eighth grade. “But there’s a catch, which exists in nearly all state retention laws: A student can be promoted if the teacher decides retention isn’t appropriate for that child,” writes Callister.
It’s better to promote failing students with their classmates, then provide extra support, says Arzie Galvez,a Los Angeles Unified administrator.
Support may include taking double math or English, tutoring, help from aides, summer school or credit recovery programs.
Retention doesn’t help because “the typical situation is to simply repeat a grade and not necessarily address the reasons a kid was failing in the first place,” says Russ Rumberger, professor of education at the University of California Santa Barbara.
But Marcus Winters, a professor of education at the University of Colorado, believes the extra help should be provided while the student repeats the grade.
Winters looked at retained students in Florida after a retention law was instituted in 2003. Winters narrowed the pool of students to those within a small margin both above and below the cutoff for retention, which he said was basically the difference of one or two problems on the state standardized test.
Students below the cutoff were retained and given extra support during the following year, while students above were moved on to the next grade.
“We found that the kids who received this retention and remediation treatment in third grade, there’s big positive immediate effect in those first couple of years,” Winters said. “That effect tended to fade a little bit over time, but even by the time they were in the seventh grade there was still a pretty large — not only statistically significant but really meaningful — positive effect from receiving that treatment in third grade.”
Florida’s retention rates jumped nearly a third in the 2002-2003 school year, but retention rates have fallen back to the old level.
Alberto Cortes fell behind in math, repeated fourth grade at his Los Angeles school and continued to fail, Callister reports. Expelled from his middle school in seventh grade, he persuaded the new school to skip him into eighth grade with students his own age. He failed in high school and dropped out.
Now 16, he meets one-on-one with a teacher through an alternative education program. He’s on track to graduate in the next year and a half.
“I do want to get at least my bachelor’s and my master’s,” Cortes said. “I want to do something in the medical business. But at (the time I dropped out) I always thought that I was going to end up in jail someday.”
I hate to see kids with dreams totally unconnected to reality. If he prepared to qualify for a medical technician program at his local community college, he might have a shot at “the medical business.”