Showing posts with label Retention. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Retention. Show all posts

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Should We Retain Kids to Raise Reading Achievement? Part II

In my last entry I was asked whether it was acceptable to retain special education students. My response was that I had always opposed such retention based on an extensive body of research (some of which is listed below). However, I also admitted that the most recent research, relatively high quality research, was finding positive results for test-based retention in Florida. In that blog, I reported on two regression discontinuity studies (this is the closest design to a full-blown control-trial experimental study) that had found positive and long-lasting results for early retention.

In this entry I want to explore my concerns.

Why is this working in Florida when it hasn't worked elsewhere? The most serious problem with these new studies, as carefully done as they are, is that they were unable to isolate the accountability part of the reforms from the rest of Florida's education policies.

Florida did more than just flunk kids: they did a great job of ensuring that classrooms across the state were beefing up their teaching of phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency, and they made sure there were ongoing interventions available to struggling readers. They provided substantial coaching and other professional development for their teachers, and supported extensive summer school and afterschool programs. Yes, these kids were given an extra year of teaching, and yet this extra year was more likely be worth having than what is usually provided to retained students.

Florida did more than retain kids: they ensured that those students got the necessary instruction to make real progress. Too often kids are flunked into classrooms no better than the ones they failed in and with no additional supports or resources.

I suspect that your administrators are convinced by these studies that retention can and will be good for kids. And, yet, are they being as scrupulous to make sure that the extra year of teaching is this positive? If not, my bet would be that it won't be as beneficial.

There is one additional concern about this and it is detailed in the following Brookings analysis.
Although early retention may seem to give kids the time needed to master the academic content, there is another potential problem darkly lurking in the wings: the older that students are when they enter high school, the more likely they will drop out. Retain kids for a year and you increase their chances of becoming a high school dropout; flunk them twice and it is almost guaranteed that they won’t finish. Thus, we could be addressing one problem while creating a second at least as serious. Of course, it's possible Florida students won't follow this past pattern—policies have been changing as to when students can leave school, and, if they are really benefiting from retention, as these studies suggest, then these later problems might not manifest themselves as in the past. Unfortunately, no one knows the answer to that. 

Some Past Research on Retention
Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., Dauber, S. L. (1994). On the success of failure. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, G. B. (1975). The research evidence on grade retention. Review of Educational Research, 45, 613-635.

Jimerson, S. R. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade-retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30, 420-437.

Jimerson, S. R., Anderson, G. E., & Whipple, A. D. (2002). Winning the battle and losing the war: Examining the relation between grade retention and dropping out of high school. Psychology in the Schools, 39, 441-457.

Karweit, N. (1992). Retention policy. In M. Alkin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Research (pp. 114-118). New York: Macmillan.

Karweit, N. (1999). Grade retention: Prevalence, timing, and effects. Report No. 33. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research on the Education Students Placed At Risk.

Reynolds, A. (1992). Grade retention and school adjustment: An exploratory analysis. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 14, 101-121.

Roderick, M. (1994). Grade retention and school dropout: Investigating the association. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 729-759.

Shepard, L. A. (1994). Grade repeating. In T. Husen & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Education (2nd ed.). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Shepard, L. A., & Smith, M. L. (1987). Effects of kindergarten retention at the end of first grade. Psychology in the Schools, 24, 346-357.

Shepard, L. A., & Smith, M. L. (1989). Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention. London: Falmer Press.

Shepard, L. A., & Smith, M. L. (1990). Synthesis of research on grade retention. Educational Leadership, 47, 84-88.

Shepard, L. A., & Smith, M. L. (1996). Failed evidence on grade retention. Psychology in the Schools, 33, 251-261.

Shepard, L. A., Smith, M. L., & Marion, S. F. (1998). On the success of failure: A rejoinder to Alexander. Psychology in the Schools, 35, 404-406.

Smith, M.L., & Shepard, L. A. (1987). What doesn’t work: Explaining policies of retention  in early grade. Phi Delta Kappan, 68, 129-134.

Should We Retain Kids to Raise Reading Achievement? Part I

Hi Tim,
I was wondering what your thoughts are on retention of special education students due to the higher demands of the common core standards. Our school uses the "Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project" Benchmark Reading Levels as our primary reading assessment. Student report card grades in reading are based on this assessment.

Two years ago, a Kindergarten student could be on level B, and be promoted.  Now, two years later, they must be on Level D/E. The pattern continues throughout the grades, what was acceptable a few years ago as grade level is no longer the case. This presents a problem for my students with reading disorders, whose primary struggles are with decoding/fluency, and in turn sometimes comprehension.

I have dyslexic students who are on grade level in math, but below in reading, and my administrators feel that retaining them in first grade will "give them a chance" and prevent reading failure in the future. I feel that retaining them is not the right decision, as they are on grade level in pretty much everything except decoding/fluency. I think it is wrong to hold back these students and I think the research shows this.  Just wanted to know your thoughts, as you are an expert. 

My response:
First, let’s distinguish the common core from what I suspect you’re confronting. Common core is neither for nor against retention. What you are running into is currently a big policy debate across the nation. Many states and large districts are adopting stricter student retention policies for the primary grades as a big part of their “reading by grade 3” initiatives.

Why is retention such an issue? Not because of common core, but because of some recent research on the success of Florida’s educational reforms. Some states have accomplished improvement on their state tests, but have faltered on other measures. Not so Florida. It improved on the NAEP, too, and the gains have held up.

Why have they done so well? One possibility is Florida’s test-based retention policy. Jay Greene and Marcus Winters examined the results of this policy in a study reported in the journal, Educational Finance and Policy in 2007.“The results ...suggest that students subjected to the treatment of Florida’s test-based retention policy made significant and economically substantial gains in reading relative to promoted students. Further, that the impact of the policy for reading scores grows after two years is consistent with the idea that retained students will continue to gain ground in reading relative to promoted students in later years as academic material becomes more difficult. The fact that the size of the impact found after one and two years is quite similar across these two quite different comparison approaches provides confidence that our results are robust.” (Greene & Winters, p. 336).

A more recent study on the same policy was even more positive in its findings (Schwerdt & West, 2013):
“Although conventional OLS estimates suggest negative effects of retention on achievement, regression discontinuity estimates indicate large positive effects on achievement and a reduced probability of retention in subsequent years. The achievement gains from test-based retention fade out over time, however, and are statistically insignificant after six years.”

These newer studies tell me that it is possible to retain kids and to get good results from such efforts. However, it might not be that simple. Past studies, unlike these, have detailed lots of problems with retention. In my next blog I'll talk about the one big gap evident in these newer studies, and what some of the past concerns have been. Based on the older studies I have long advised schools against retention, and frankly, I'm not yet convinced, though these newer studies have definitely given me pause and I think this evidence is too good to ignore. I'll explore those ideas more fully next time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Here's a Reading Improvement Plan that Flunks

Recently, I heard about an idea being entertained by government officials in Indiana: improve reading by flunking more kids. The idea is that if a youngster reaches third grade and isn’t reading well enough, you hold the child back to give them the time to catch up.

As you might know, I’m a big supporter of the idea of increasing the amount of teaching that we provide kids: longer school days, longer school years, and, yes, even more school years. So, what of this plan to give more teaching to third-grade laggards?

Well, you also know that I believe in following the research, and here is a time that research rejects the idea of flunking. The best reviews of research that we have say that if you take a group of kids who aren’t doing well in school, and promote some of them while retaining the others…

That the kids who get promoted do best!

That’s right…. Retaining kids does not help them in the short run. During the year of retention, the kids who were held back learn more slowly than the kids who were sent ahead.

Okay, but maybe the payoff of retention doesn’t come all at once, maybe it doesn’t kick in until later, when the kids actually get their extra year of teaching. Again, the research is not supportive of retention.

It turns out that there are two factors that can make a big difference in high school graduation: one is reading level (and, this “reform” is aimed at improving reading levels), and student age. Kids who are retained once during the early years are more likely to drop out of high school. Kids who are retained twice are almost certain to drop out.

Retention may look like an extra year of teaching, but frankly it is so painful to kids that they ultimately reject the offer. If you want to help kids succeed, get mom and dad helping so that the student is doing academics away from school; put the youngster in a high quality after school and/or summer program; increase the numbers of minutes devoted to literacy teaching during the day; use textbooks, programs, professional development and any other lever that you can think of to improve reading instruction… but DO NOT fail these kids. (I believe that not because I am soft hearted, but because I am hard headed. Don’t retain because it is expensive and does not work!)