Pass or Fail: When Assessments are Used for Retention – The Fallout
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
Retaining a student due to low assessment scores doesn’t help much, if at all.
When tests are used to make retention decisions, retained students are likely to receive a low-quality educational placement because many of the causes of their poor test performance are will simply be repeated. Most tests used in retention decisions produce scores that are partly attributable to low-quality instruction and unintended linguistic and cultural factors. Whenever this is the case, students who are already at a socioeconomic and cultural disadvantage find themselves educationally disenfranchised for the second time.
This problem also begs the question of whether graded learning structures are viable at all. With neither retention nor social promotion offering a positive educational placement for struggling students, the structure of the system itself comes into question.
Grissom and Shepard’s study demonstrates that retained students drop out at rates higher than non-retained students. The study is a path analysis of samples ranging in size from 10,000 to 40,000 drawn from different geographical regions. Across these various samples, retention was associated with an increase in dropout rates of between 14 and 29 percentage points.
Alexander et al. used a logistic regression framework and found that the odds of dropout were approximately four times higher for students who had been retained than for comparable non-retained students.
Jimerson also determined that that retained students had a 50 percent higher chance of dropout by age nineteen than students of a matched comparison group who were never retained.
What’s more – many researchers in the field consider grade retention to be among the best predictors of later school dropout. In this case rating students based on assessments hurts the student short-term and long-term, proving that relying on tests alone is not a true determiner of what is right for the student.