States, just as individual teachers, schools, and school systems continue to use retention as a remediation policy even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it just doesn't work.
Last September I wrote about the false dichotomy of Retention vs. Social Promotion. It's time to repost that again.
Alternatives to Retention: A False Dichotomy
Teachers, Parents, Administrators, and policy makers all denounce social promotion. Many will claim that retention is the only option left when students can't or won't perform. Are those the only two options? In today's world of low budget schools, large classes, overtested students and overworked teachers it's unrealistic to believe that an average school system would have the money to choose a different path. However, that's what it would take if we were serious about student achievement.
Students who are retained are most often males, low-income, and minorities. The main deficit for students who are retained is reading. Reading is the one skill which needs to be nurtured before a child begins school. That's why good preschool programs are so important for low-income children. Good preschool programs cost money.
The fact is that as a nation, we don't really care about student achievement. We care about test scores. If we really cared about student achievement we wouldn't be closing schools whose students are struggling. We wouldn't be evaluating teachers using test scores and punishing those teachers who work with the most difficult to educate students. We wouldn't be rewarding "successful" schools with more funding, and we wouldn't be replacing experienced educators with trainees.
We would be investing more in the education of students who need the most help. We would be providing incentives for our most gifted educators to teach in the most difficult situations. We would be focused on the root causes of lower achievement -- poverty and societal neglect.
While we as educators have no control over what we should be doing, there are some things that we can do. Retention and social promotion are not the only choices. Instead of retention or social promotion the following alternatives to retention are worth exploring and investing in...
Early and intense intervention works better than retention or social promotion.
- Promotion or retention with additional instruction is more effective than either policy alone.
- The issue is not what to adapt but how to provide appropriate instruction given student diversity.
- Future research should denote attention to locating, developing, and evaluating effective organizational responses to differences in student abilities and competencies.
- Utilizing the concept of "schools within a school," have teams of teachers, who hold students to high educational standards and communicate the belief that all can succeed, while engaging all students in challenging, meaningful activities that range from authentic problems to explore real-world issues. Also, relating classroom activities to students’ culture, knowledge and experience are recommended as viable, instructional alternatives to retention.
- Tutorial (i.e., peer, cross-age, and adult), extended "basic skills," cooperative learning, extended year programs, multi-grade groupings, and individualized instruction through technology are additional alternative approaches recommended from the research.
- Remedial help, before-and after-school programs, summer school, instructional aides to work with target children in regular classrooms, and individualized education plans can provide the support for students being promoted but still needing to improve academically.
- Recruiting parents, university students, and community volunteers to work with students having difficulties is still an important source of support. Parent involvement continues to be needed for the success of all students.
- Base eligibility for promotion on multiple measures rather than on a single test; develop measures of achievement that measure what is actually taught in class.
- Avoid the tendency to teach only "the basic," instead, provide a varied and challenging curriculum.
- Include the average child while attempting to raise the level of the low achiever so that higher promotional standards mean higher achievement for all students.
- Support a curriculum philosophy that is designed to meet the needs of the child.
- Alternative placement programs should be considered for the over-aged middle school students to provide an instructional program and a support system based on acceleration rather than remediation.
- Teachers and administrators should consistently resist parental and societal pressures to increase the academic demand of the curriculum to developmentally inappropriate levels, and resist enrollment, retention, and placement practices that are based on a single developmental or screening measure.
- Implement pre-service and in-service training programs for teachers and administrators, emphasizing strategies that provide students additional time and individualized attention.
- Consider adopting or adapting one of the model programs proven to help at-risk students on the basis of identified needs and a collective vision...[emphasis added]
- Just Say No to Just Read, Florida, South Carolina
- Grade Retention
- Ending Social Promotion Without Leaving Children Behind
- What Research Says about Grade Retention
- Alternatives to Grade Retention (NASP)
- Alternatives to Grade Retention (AASA)
- Alternatives to Grade Retention (NAESP)
- My Postings on Grade Retention
- Information under RESEARCH ON RETENTION IN GRADE in the menu at the right
N.C. ‘read or flunk’ plan gets mixed reviews from local educators
“The research is clear that when students are retained, their chances of graduating drop dramatically,” Crystal Hill, executive director of elementary education in Mooresville Graded Schools, told about 200 educators and advocates at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in northwest Charlotte...North Carolina Read to Achieve Parent Information
Panelists and audience members voiced frustration with a state budget passed this week, which cuts money for teacher assistants and instructional supplies, ends tenure and shifts money to private-school vouchers.
The Read to Achieve law requires third graders who score at Level 1 or 2 in reading on the third grade EOG be retained and not promoted to the fourth grade. However, students can receive a good cause exemption by showing proficiency on a Read to Achieve test (given after the EOG) or through a completed reading portfolio. If your child scores a Level 1 or 2 on the EOG and does not qualify for a good cause exemption, then the school will notify you in writing that your child must achieve proficiency before being promoted to the fourth grade. In addition, some students with an IEP who are being taught on alternate academic achievement standards, some limited English proficient students, and students who have been retained more than once before third grade also can receive a good cause exemption.Students, teachers grapple with Read to Achieve law
For students who don’t end up successfully passing the portfolio assessments or any of the other ways to demonstrate reading proficiency, they’ll then be expected to attend six-week summer reading camps as a last-ditch attempt to make it into the fourth grade...
If a parent chooses not to send her child to summer camp, that student must repeat the third grade. But for those students who do attend summer camps but don’t successfully pass, they will be placed into a hybrid third/fourth grade classroom in the fall, in which classroom instruction will be designed to meet fourth grade standards but non-proficient readers will continue to receive remediation.
IREAD-3: Too Much Pressure
Students who do not pass the second time may be retained in 3rd grade.Share the Responsibility
For too long the argument has focused on two bad approaches to solving the problem of low student achievement and neither of them improve children's learning.
On the other hand we do know what works. We do know how to keep many at-risk children from failing. Unfortunately, we don't want (or can't afford) to invest the money, time or resources to get it done.
What works in school is early and intensive remediation.
Florida: Does Retention (repeating a grade) Help Struggling Learners? Conclusion: No.
There are sufficient data to conclude that retention in the absence of well-funded, guaranteed, and high-dosage interventions is ineffective or harmful. This includes the most recent research using the most rigorous methods to control for pre-retention differences.Ohio: Why a Third Grade Reading Guarantee on Its Own Won’t Help Ohio Children
This kind of “you must pass the test to be promoted” policy comes into vogue periodically. Ohio tried to enact one in 1997, but it was eventually watered down and has had little effect on improving Ohio students’ performance.Arizona: No free pass for 3rd-graders
Arizona officials estimate that 1,500 third-graders are at risk of not being promoted at the end of this school year because they won’t meet new reading requirements.Iowa: As reading scores stagnate, state considers holding students back
Move On When Reading, a law passed in 2010 that goes into effect this year, mandates that schools hold back third-graders who score in the lowest category of the reading portion of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, known as AIMS.
Under the proposed rules, parents of a struggling reader in third grade would have the choice of enrolling the pupil in an intensive summer reading program. If the parents refuse summer school, the child would be held back. The board plans to cast a final vote to accept these rules early this year.Michigan: The Third-Grade Crackdown Club
"We really aren’t looking at it as being punitive,” said Dave Tilly, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education, "but we really want to get parents to take their child’s literacy development very, very seriously.”
...retaining students is costly-- an average of $10,000 per retention--and the money would be better spent on tutoring. Oddly, in a time when economic efficiency is righteously pursued in public education, this doesn't seem to be a factor. Lawmakers and commenters seem bent on penalties, but it's hard to put a finger on who deserves blame when kids aren't reading fluently by the third grade...Oklahoma: Parents, teachers denounce Reading Sufficiency Act
As a middle school teacher who's attended dozens of retention meetings, this is my observation: most retentions of older children aren't based on inherent academic weakness. They happen because kids have checked out, stopped trying. Failing a grade is used as both threat and punishment. Although it's rare, there are cases where retention is the right decision. But that call should be made by teachers and parents, not at the statehouse.
“The Reading Sufficiency Act is a law that was passed that says students this year in the third grade have to read on grade level, per the results of a test, or they cannot pass...”Texas: The Promise and Perils of the Texas School Success Initiative
...what is in the best interest of children is not always incorporated into good teaching practice or even good public policy. Note that, even with evidence of an adverse impact on public school students, Texas’ testing practices were incorporated into the national education plan, No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law in 2002.
Furthermore, Texas policymakers have recently considered expanding test-retention policies to include 13 standardized end-of-course exams. In their proposals, regardless of the student’s grade in the subject area, he or she would have to pass the end-of-course test or fail the class (Cortez and Romero, 2005).
See also Third Grade Again: The Trouble With Holding Students Back
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.
Stop the Testing Insanity!