Friday, November 1, 2013

Keeping 3rd Graders Behind

(SEE UPDATES BELOW) In his Mlive article, Should third-grade students with reading trouble be held back? Take our poll, Brian Smith describes a proposal introduced on October 29, 2013 by Rep. Amanda Price, (R-District 89). The bill is now being considered by the education committee of the Michigan House of Representatives. House Bill 5111, creates a law that would prevent any student from enrolling in 4th grade who has not achieved a score of "proficient" on the 3rd grade Michigan reading assessment. This applies both to students currently enrolled in a public school or public school academy (charter school) as well as students new to that school. No exceptions.

This is an equity and social justice issue. Below, is the comment I posted in response:

Brian Smith--you've cited one study, I hope you will continue your research into this incredibly important issue. There are hundreds of studies that have been conducted on retention. Overall, they have found that retention is not an adequate solution, for example see this article in ASCD's, Education Leadership (March 2008) that analyzes the research literature on the subject of retention up to that date:

Not only do short-term gains quickly disappear, students who have been retained continue to struggle, have higher special education placements, are much more likely to drop out, and more than twice as likely to be minorities. The statistics show that "Black students are more than twice as likely to be held back as white students, and boys twice as likely as girls (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006)." The author concludes that "Although individual studies can be cited to support any conclusion, overall the preponderance of evidence argues that students who repeat a grade are no better off, and are sometimes worse off, than if they had been promoted with their classmates."

Other than for symbolic, political reasons, why would we do this to children when we know it doesn't adequately solve the problem? It seems to me that tax dollars that would be required to educate retained students for an additional year (that is, if they don't drop out first) would be much better spent on early interventions in Preschool to 3rd grade, where research has demonstrated it makes a real difference.

Research on early interventions/preschool:  (Hat tip to @Kyle_Mayer1 Assistant Superintendent, Instructional Services, OAISD)

HighScope Perry Preschool longitudinal study

UPDATE 11-23-13: John Hattie's meta-analysis indicates a negative 'effect size' for retention of -0.16. Check out this graphic of 138 effect sizes that impact learning and student achievement, adapted from Hattie's (2009) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement
Also, check out Hattie's 2012 book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

UPDATE 12-4-13: Nancy Flanagan's blog post "The Third-Grade Crackdown Club".

UPDATE 1-20-14: Michigan lawmakers and educators continue to work on bill that would flunk 3rd graders via @MichiganRadio

UPDATE 2-21-14: Oakland Schools blog post includes video with Dr. Joan Firestone: Intervention Beats Retention


  1. Thanks for the updates on this incredibly important issue to Michigan kids. Reading to learn and learning to read go hand in hand. It's important to remember that every child is an individual and learns differently.

    [FULL DISCLOSURE: I don't work for ThinkStretch, but I do help with their digital.]

    1. You're welcome! Thanks for commenting and for the link to the post from ThinkStretch--it's spot-on!