‘Large, sustained positive effect’

Retention plus remedial training


Several states that are considerin­g ending social promotion — the practice of moving lowperform­ing students to the next grade for socializat­ion reasons — are on the right track. Under new measures in these states, thirdgrade­rs would generally need to demonstrat­e reading proficienc­y on a standardiz­ed test to be promoted to the fourth grade. My recent study of Florida's policy suggests that it works well for students who are held back and receive remedial training.

The new laws, most of them patterned on Florida’s, would provide remedial services to lowperform­ing students who are retained. But it is retention itself that is stirring controvers­y. A wide body of research purports to show that retention harms future academic outcomes. But much of that earlier research failed to adequately account for difference­s in the types of kids who are retained or promoted.

Lawmakers should consider the evaluation of Florida's policy I did with co-author Jay Greene. We were able to make apples-to-apples compari- sons by looking at students who just barely passed the test, as well as those who were just barely left behind. We found that retained students who got remedial training substantia­lly outperform­ed their socially promoted peers in reading and math.

That our results were very similar for several classes of third-graders makes us confident that we’re observing a true effect in the study, a longer version of which is scheduled to be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

The benefit from Florida's policy is quite large relative to other interventi­ons, and it lasts for several years. That distinguis­hes it from treatments such as Head Start, which has an initially positive effect but fades quickly and completely.

There’s more to learn about the long-term effects of Florida's policy. Because our results strictly apply to policies identical to Florida's, states that stray from this model will find our results less useful. Nonetheles­s, policymake­rs should be aware that a Florida-style policy has a large and sustained positive effect on student achievemen­t.

Marcus A. Winters is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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