Third Grade Retention Laws: Is there hope?

Whether a child is a proficient reader by the third grade is an important indicator of their future academic success. Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that unless students establish basic reading skills by that time, the rest of their education will be an uphill struggle. This evidence has spurred efforts to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction in and even before the early grades. It has also raised the uncomfortable question of how to respond when those efforts fail to occur or prove unsuccessful: Should students who have not acquired a basic level of reading proficiency by grade three be promoted along with their peers? Or should they be retained and provided with intensive interventions before moving on to the next grade?

The Benefits of Florida's Test-Based Promotion System

State and municipal policymakers are increasingly addressing the practice of social promotion in schools-moving children along to the next grade whether or not they have mastered the curriculum-by mandating test-based grade promotion.

This paper draws conclusions about the effects of a policy limiting social promotion. To do so, it employs a methodology known as regression discontinuity, which is capable of producing causal estimates of policy effects to study the impact of Florida's test-based promotion policy on later student achievement. Under this program, students must take an exam to automatically pass from third to fourth grade (some students scoring below the automatic promotion threshold may still advance at teacher discretion). Students who are retained in third grade also receive a rigorous remediation regime aimed at improving their long-term performance.

By studying the long-term performance of children who just barely passed the test, as well as those who were just barely left behind, it was possible to compare two essentially identical populations: one set of students who moved forward despite only borderline understanding of the material; and another set who stayed behind a year and received tutoring, mentoring, and other remedial interventions.

On average, the students who were remediated did better academically, in both the short and long term, than those who were promoted. Tellingly, the benefits of the remediation were still apparent and substantial through the seventh grade (which is as far as the data can be tracked at this point).


First through Eighth Grade Retention Rates for All 50 States: A New Method and Initial Results

How many students repeat a grade each year? How do retention rates vary across states and over time? Despite extensive research on the predictors and consequences of grade retention, there is no systematic way to quantify state-level retention rates; even national estimates rely on imperfect proxy measures. We present a conceptually simple method-based on publicly available data that are routinely collected each year-that describes retention rates at the state and national levels.


Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?


Confronting the Crisis:_ Federal Investments in State Birth-Through-Grade-Twelve Literacy Education

Literacy is one of the most critical components of academic success, but the majority of students are leaving high school without the reading and writing skills needed to succeed in college and a career. According to ACT, fewer than 40 percent of black and Latino students are ready for college-level reading when they graduate from high school. This policy brief describes two state-led initiatives-the English language arts common core state standards, and comprehensive birth-through-grade-twelve state literacy plans-to help all young people attain the advanced literacy skills needed to succeed in the modern world. It concludes with a set of policy recommendations to invest fully in efforts to catalyze nationwide improvements in literacy achievement.


Why Third Grade Is SO Important

Children who have made the leap to fluent reading will learn exponentially, while those who haven't will slump

Take a guess: What is the single most important year of an individual's academic career? The answer isn't junior year of high school, or senior year of college. It's third grade.

What makes success in third grade so significant? It's the year that students move from learning to read - decoding words using their knowledge of the alphabet - to reading to learn. The books children are expected to master are no longer simple primers but fact-filled texts on the solar system, Native Americans, the Civil War. Children who haven't made the leap to fast, fluent reading begin at this moment to fall behind, and for most of them the gap will continue to grow. So third grade constitutes a critical transition - a "pivot point: third-graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times more likely to become high school dropouts.

Too often the story unfolds this way: struggles in third grade lead to the "fourth-grade slump, as the reading-to-learn model comes to dominate instruction. While their more skilled classmates are amassing knowledge and learning new words from context, poor readers may begin to avoid reading out of frustration. A vicious cycle sets in: school assignments increasingly require background knowledge and familiarity with "book words (literary, abstract and technical terms)- competencies that are themselves acquired through reading. Meanwhile, classes in science, social studies, history and even math come to rely more and more on textual analysis, so that struggling readers begin to fall behind in these subjects as well.

What researchers call the "Matthew effect, is after the Bible verse found in the Gospel of Matthew: "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. In other words, the academically rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as small differences in learning ability grow into large ones. But the Matthew effect has an important upside: well-timed interventions can reverse its direction, turning a vicious cycle into a virtuous one.

Recognizing the importance of this juncture, some states have been taking a hard line: third-graders who aren't reading at grade level don't get promoted to fourth grade. "Mandatory retention bills have already passed in Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Oklahoma, and are being considered in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Tennessee. But many education researchers say holding kids back isn't the answer. The ideal alternative: teachers and parents would collaborate on the creation of an individualized learning plan for each third-grader who needs help with reading - a plan that might involve specialized instruction, tutoring or summer school. Most important is taking action, researchers say, and not assuming that reading problems will work themselves out.


Our Teachers Need Professional Knowledge

Superficial Thinking of TEACHING READING

Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those couldn't master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What's more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates. The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.

The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children's parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family's economic status and other factors, while the children's reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database re- ports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.