Lawmaker Responds To Criticism of Bill Third Grade Retention

Lawmaker Responds To Criticism of Bill Third Grade Retention

A proposal under consideration by Michigan legislators would not allow students to be promoted to fourth grade if they are not proficient in reading. (MLive File photo)

The literature is, was, and likely will long be available. There is “Evidence of Negative Outcomes of Retention.” Studies consistently conclude

Unlike most aspects of education which have contending forces pulling in opposite directions, the body of research on flunking kids speaks with a single voice. One 1991 study reviewed the research literature on 49 educational innovations, calculated their impact on education achievement, and then ranked them in order of power. Retention in grade ranked 49th. It was among the few innovations that actually produced negative results. I recently reviewed and updated this research literature adding studies not available to the 1991 analysis. Nothing has changed.

Why do people think failing kids works? In large part because they are not in a position to conduct a controlled experiment. Teachers and parents usually can see only how retained children fare the next year. They do better–on the same material they did poorly on the first time around. A little better. Few blossom into high achievers. Teachers and parents, watching the children struggle in the second year in the same grade then assume, reasonably, that the children’s’ situation would have been that much worse had they been promoted. The assumption is reasonable but wrong.

There have been situations in which some children who had low achievement were promoted while other children of the same low achievement were flunked. In those settings, the children who were promoted fared at least as well, usually better than those who were left behind.

~ Gerald Bracey Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency

Nevertheless, all these years later the beat of Defeat Meaningful Achievement goes on. In Florida third grade retention flourishes. Arizona too adopts the plan. Oklahoma is a-okay and all in. And the exalted Education Commission of the States endorses the policy and promotes it.

All the while, the criticism mounts. Finally, a West Michigan Lawmaker Responds To Criticism of a Bill To Hold Back Third Graders Over Reading Proficiency. The question is, will the pressure make a difference. Empirical evidence never did.

References and Resources…

West Michigan Lawmaker Responds To Criticism of Bill To Hold Back Third Graders Over Reading Proficiency

By Brian Smith | Follow on Twitter | Originally Published at MLive. November 4, 2013

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The West Michigan lawmaker who introduced legislation that would hold back a year any third grader who doesn’t pass the reading portion of a state exam is defending the goals of the bill that would make reading a higher priority.

State Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, is aware of concerns from school leaders, which include there being no accommodations in the bill for students with special needs, retention being based on a single test, and the bill lacking flexibility for parent input.

Related: Holding back 3rd graders: West Michigan school leaders weigh in on bill tied to reading scores

“My focus is on the 32 percent of students in the state who aren’t reading at third grade level as they should and the 25 percent (of students) who aren’t graduating,” said Price, who said she is working with Rep. Tommy Stallworth, D-Detroit on a companion bill that would include such things as recommended reading interventions from the state Department of Education.

“I am aware of third grade as being a dividing path. This is such a critical juncture for kids because if they are not reading well by then, school will be much more difficult.”

She said she has no plans to change the legislation at this point to address concerns, such as no leeway being given for English Language Learners or special education students. She said she wants to hear more testimony on the bill this week in the House Education Committee.

If the bill were law, more than 36,000 children would have to repeat the third grade because they did not score as proficient on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) exam.

“This is not acceptable,” she said of the test scores.

Related: Should third-grade students with reading trouble be held back? Take MLive poll

She said when she found out a total of 32 states had policies aimed at improving third-grade reading proficiency and 14 had retentions, she thought it would be a great idea for Michigan to follow their lead.

Price said she has researched some states with similar policies such as Florida that have seen some progress.

But Kyle Mayer, OAISD Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services
said there is a tremendous amount of research showing that retention is a short-term ineffective method in addressing achievement gaps.

A 2012 study by the Brookings Institution examined Florida’s results since implementing the policy in 2003. It found that while students demonstrated short-term gains in test performance after being retained, those gains disappeared by eighth grade.

“It appears there is a great deal of latitude between having no specific policy, where we are today, and outright retention, which gives us plenty of opportunity to discuss what appropriate intervention, assessment and placement should entail,” said Ron Koehler, Kent ISD’s assistant superintendent for organizational and community Initiatives.

School leaders also say the conversation has to address the decline in state funding that supported more interventions for students.

Monica Scott is the Grand Rapids K-12 education writer. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @MScottGR or Facebook


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