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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Repeating a grade can help elementary students succeed

Holding kids back if they're way behind in reading is very controversial, but new research shows that repeating a grade in elementary school can help students improve, conclude Umut Özek and Louis T. Mariano in a new Fordham policy brief. However, waiting till middle school is unlikely to benefit students.


They cite evidence from Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, Chicago and New York City.


Academic gains last through middle school, and some studies show retained students feel greater "connectedness" to school compared to similar students who weren't retained.


A "third-grade reading gate" should be part of a broader remediation policy, they write. Extra instruction for at-risk students drastically reduces the number of retained students. Once held back, students need extra instruction. For example, Florida requires schools to develop academic improvement plans for retained students, assign them to high-performing teachers, provide at least 90 minutes of daily reading instruction and offer intensive reading instruction during the summer.


Younger siblings of students who are held back do better in school, notes Kevin Mahnken on The 74. Ozek credits the "threat effect." Requiring students to score at a certain level to move on to fourth grade "provides a clear signal to schools and parents that they need to do something in earlier grades so their students aren’t retained.”


Third grade is too late for many students, writes Kalman R. Hettleman, author of Mislabeled as Disabled: The Educational Abuse of Struggling Readers and How WE Can Fight It. Research shows that students who are behind after third grade rarely catch up to grade level, he writes. "For example, despite highly touted retention policies, the percentages of fourth graders achieving proficiency in reading in 2022 were 31 percent in Mississippi and 39 percent in Florida."


"Foundational reading skills are learned step by step up the grade ladder beginning in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten," he writes. Students who fall behind in kindergarten or first grade are likely to "never catch up — unless they receive before third grade the kind of intensive interventions that third-grade promotion gates are intended to trigger."


“The chance to teach children to read is often lost by the end of first grade, ” reading expert Jarrod Bolte told him.


Hettleman asks: Why wait?

11 Comments


Guest
Oct 26, 2023

This kindergarten teacher has been begging the powers that be to allow struggling students a second chance at kindergarten! Boy’s development lags behind that of girls by about five months at age 5. Every year my least successful students are boys with April-August birthdays. They‘re just not ready to learn to read at the ONLY moment the system is willing to teach them. And, at least in my large, urban district, first grade teachers are forbidden to teach kindergarten skills, like letters, sounds, and blending 3 sounds for CVC words. No second chances allowed for children whose families can’t or won’t fill in the gaps.

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Guest
Oct 20, 2023

My area decided it was more effective to provide new English speakers with English Language Arts instruction in a county wide setting, until a sufficient level of English proficiency was reached. The prior plan was immersion in the reg ed classroom with a daily pullout for English Language instruction. Keep in mind most families will send a child to school as soon as possible in order to reduce their daycare costs and free up teens for work.

Note: the only place ELA is taught in a step-by-step fashion here is pullout for the included. Reg ed students do not get all the necessary units..by law, they are entitled to only the minimum necessary 'for the pass'. Repeating a grade do…

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Guest
Oct 19, 2023

Academically, girls are kicking the butts of boys in public schooling...the average male student (assuming he actually manages to graduate) is at least a year behind in math, and 1.5 years behind in reading... this was before the appearance of minimum "F" grading, unlimited test retakes, chronic absenteeism, etc


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Guest
Oct 19, 2023
Replying to

This should NOT be a surprise anywhere, given that males generally make up about 2/5ths of college enrollment these days, and this ratio will probably be 2-1 in favor of females by 2030...though by 2025, college enrollments will decline about 10-15% due to a decline in the birth rate started with the Great Recession of 2008-2010ish.


Many colleges use AA for males, as the imbalance on campuses is not good in general it should be within 5 points either way, but realistically, females generally are more focused on their studies

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Guest
Oct 19, 2023

When public schooling first came out, many students were OFTEN held back a year, as this was common practice...these days, with all the self-esteem malarkey which passes for education by elected officials and state legislatures (who more often then not are filled with wannabes and posers), the needs of the student are RARELY considered...


If kids think they have a self-esteem problem being held back a year, wait until they get out in the REAL WORLD of work and find out they have to perform to keep a job (though many teenage kids

and young adults don't see the consequences of job hopping for 10 years, holding 20-30 different jobs all of which are pretty much the same job, but…


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Guest
Oct 19, 2023
Replying to

ONe needs to remember that 1954 was the first year that more than 50% of 19 year olds were high school graduates. The American education system was designed for most students to drop out with the emphasis on non-white students dropping out. After a higher percentage of students started graduating and going to college, colleges went through a couple of decades of weedout classes instead of graduating too many people. Those days are also over.

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Guest
Oct 18, 2023

Some side effects don't appear until teenage years. An old-for-grade teen, who drives a year earlier, develops a year earlier, or becomes a legal adult a year earlier has a much higher risk of disruptive behaviors, dropping out, and criminal justice involvement.

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Guest
Oct 18, 2023
Replying to
  1. Who say that teens drive anymore.

  2. The red-shirt data shows that boys benefit from being held back a year, especially in middle school when the girls surge past the boys on academic performance.

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