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Report Shows Retained Students Performed Better On MCAS The Second Time

Ohanian Comment: Massachusetts Standardistos are actually making the case that, despite all legitimate research to the contrary, retention is good for kids.

If you can stomach it, you can read the full report at the url below.

Anne Wheelock observes,

Besides disparities in grade retention by race, which suggest at the very least that Massachusetts is not closing the "achievement gap," what's worrying is that grade retention in grades 1, 2, and 3 are at 7-year highs -- as is retention for Latino students.

In particular, the fact that more kids are being held back in first grade (up to 4.1% from 3.7% in 2001 -- see

is troubling. That's because grade retention in the early grades is like a time bomb that is set to go off only when kids turn 16 and are overage for their grade. You don't see the effects right away, but you do later on.

Also grade retention for Latino students is now at a high point. It's been going up steadily since 1995 (again see: see

and this year, it's up from 5.6% to 5.9% -- for all grades.

But we should compliment the DOE on its public relations program. If you reframe grade retention in terms of a helpful rather than harmful practice, then disproportionate impact doesn't become an issue, does it? In fact, Black, Latino, urban, and low-income kids must be getting disproportionate benefit since they are retained at much higher rates than others.

Despite what the MA Dept. of Ed says, grade retention correlates with lower achievement over time, weaker motivation to engage in school (higher tardiness, truancy, and suspension rates that come from being overage for grade), and higher dropout rates. These are the findings that come from good research -- and have been confirmed over and over since the 80s.

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Contact: Heidi B. Perlman 781-338-3106
Report Shows Retained Students Performed Better On MCAS The Second Time

MALDEN - Virtually every student who repeated a grade during the 2003-2004 school year did the same or better on the MCAS exam than they did the first time they were tested, according to a new Department of Education report analyzing retention rates statewide.

In all, 94 percent of the retained students who were tested both years did the same or showed some improvement in 2004 over their 2003 MCAS performance.

“These results make clear that an extra year of schooling is exactly what certain students need,” said Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll. “When students are retained for the right reasons, they get time to grow so they can move forward at their own speed.”

In all, 2.6 percent (23,098 students) of the 887,175 students enrolled in grades one through 12 in the 2003-2004 school year were retained and repeating a grade.

This rate is the same as in 2002-2003, when 23,551 students were retained. In 1995 2 percent (16,213) of the 757,737 students enrolled in grades one through 12 were retained.

Retention rates in 2004 ranged from a low of 0.6 percent in grade five to a high of 8 percent in grade nine. Students are retained when they do not complete the school’s requirements to move to the next grade.

“Students should not be passing from one grade to the next simply because they’ve completed the school year. In the end, that benefits no one,” Commissioner Driscoll said. “The fact is that some students need more than 12 years.”

Other findings include:

* Among ethnic groups, 1.7 percent of White students were retained, as were 2.4 percent of Asians, 3.7 percent of Native Americans and 5.8 percent of African Americans and Hispanics.

* At 17.1 percent, ninth grade African-American students were retained at the highest rate. No fifth grade Native American students were retained.

* As has been the case for the past five years, more male students were retained than females. In all, 3.1 percent of males were held back, as compared to 2.1 percent of females.

* Limited English Proficient students were retained at a higher rate than non-LEP students: 5.7 percent of LEP students were retained, as compared to 2.5 percent of non-LEP students.

* Five percent of low-income students were retained, as compared to 1.7 percent of non-low income students.

The average retention rates in most cities and towns fell below five percent, with the exception of a handful of large communities, including Boston, Springfield, Chelsea and Revere.

— Press Release
Massachusetts Department of Education





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