Although the number isn’t tracked nationally, some national representative studies show that about one-fifth of eighth graders have been retained at least once, said Reynolds, who has studied retention. He said there is wide variation among school districts, with some in urban areas reporting retention rates as high as 40 percent.
Because students shift away from learning to read in the early grades to reading to learn in the upper elementary grades, most state-mandated retention policies make third grade the make-or-break year.
Such policies also give struggling students another year of instruction before they take a test as fourth-graders used to compare the educational performance of states and nations, called the National Assessment of Education Progress.
“I apologize to the rest of the country,” said Melissa Erickson, of Fund Education Now, a Florida parent advocacy group, of the spread of her state’s reforms. She said Florida’s NAEP scores had risen but noted that the test takers most likely to struggle were now a year older.
“Is the goal to manipulate data so the state looks better or is the goal to help kids?”
In Florida, where the policy is a decade old, reading is generally measured by performance on a state-administered standardized test. Exemptions also are allowed for some students, like those who do well on an alternative test or whose teachers put together a portfolio showing they can read at grade level.
Because struggling Florida students can be held back up to two times, Megan Allen has students as old as 13 in her fifth-grade class in Tampa, Fla. Some of the younger ones still talk about whether or not Santa is real and Disney movies. Among their twice-retained classmates, Allen, the Florida Teacher of the Year in 2010, has confiscated sex notes.
“I think it is defeating for them,” she said of the retained students. “These are students who are already frustrated and instead of having laws that maybe offer them supports and solutions, we have laws that are more focused on the stick than the carrot.”
The fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute studied Florida’s policy and found retained students made larger gains than students who weren’t retained.
But critics like Shane Jimerson, a professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said the study doesn’t monitor the students’ performance long enough. He said researchers have long known that retained students experience an initial academic boost but that the benefits fade.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>