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Giving Compass' Take:
• Naaz Modan discusses the varying success of third-grade retention policies aimed at boosting reading ability across the United States.
• What role can funders play in supporting reading proficiency?
• Learn more about the impact of holding back third-graders.
This coming school year, a 2016 Michigan law mandating retention for 3rd graders reading below proficiency level will go into effect. The state will join 17 others that have such such legislation, including Nevada, which just began implementing its new policy in July.
First introduced in California in 1998, mandatory retention laws have recently gained popularity as a strategy to improve literacy and lower drop-out rates for struggling readers before the end of 3rd grade.
Similar policies were then adopted in Florida by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002 as part of a broader packet of reforms, and have since spread to states across the U.S. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia require retention for students reading below proficiency by the time they complete 3rd grade. Several other states, including Texas, New Jersey and Maryland, allow retention but do not require it.
In recent legislative sessions, lawmakers in New Mexico attempted to pass a bill that would hold back students, but the measure failed for the eighth consecutive year after state Democrats raised questions about the lack of additional funding. Lawmakers in Nebraska, another state to propose retention policies, failed to pass Legislative Bill 651 after opponents of the measure testified against it in the Education Committee hearing.
While short-term effects of the Florida policy are positive, long-term outcomes haven't been as promising. An early evaluation of the practice from the American Education Finance Association showed that in the first two years following retention, retained students slightly outperformed students who were socially promoted.
However, these gains may diminish overtime and actually lead to worse outcomes outcomes for students. In 2013, another analysis of Florida’s retention policies showed “no definitive evidence that test-based retention in early grades is beneficial for students in the long run.”
For NYCDOE, a 2018 RAND Corp. analysis suggested that middle school students were more likely to drop out following retention and that retention increased special education placement.
Across the board, retention can increase the likelihood of a student dropping out of school, and many educators and organizations have criticized the growing policies for this reason.
Read the full article about 3rd-grade retention policies by Naaz Modan at Education Dive.