Putting Education Reform To The Test

Harvard Researcher Says Third Graders Benefit From Retention And Extra Instruction

Harvard University

Harvard University researcher Martin R. West.

Florida’s policy of retaining third graders based on state standardized test scores has a positive long-term impact on those students, according to a new study from the Brookings Institute.

Retention only works when the students who are held back are provided with extra instruction and the money to fund those programs, according to Harvard University researcher Martin R. West.

But critics of the policy note that West works for a Harvard research center chaired by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush is the architect of the retention policy he is pushing nationwide.

According to West’s research, retained students outperform classmates who barely made the cut on test scores, according to West. Those gains eventually level off in subsequent years.

West argues the advantage of holding students back is that is catches students who would likely have to be retained later. The intervention allows schools to boost those students’ math and reading skills on par with their classmates.

Florida students retained in third grade are less likely to be retained again later.

“Third-grade retention in Florida has no impact on student absences or special education classifications,” West writes, “but it sharply reduces the probability that the student will be retained in a subsequent grade.

“It also suggests that the costs associated with policies that increase retention rates in the early grades are less than is typically assumed because many of them would have received an additional year of schooling anyway as a result of being retained later in their educational careers.”

But critics note a caveat about the report: It’s ties to Bush.

“This is an echo chamber, a self-licking ice cream cone,” said Kathleen Oropeza, a co-founder of Orlando-based Fund Education Now. “It is based on supposition and flies in the face of known longitudinal studies that stretch back 100 years.

“Real children are suffering right now because of this policy,” she said. “More children in other states are going to suffer.


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