Friday, April 18, 2008

Grade Retention and Accountability

I make no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of high stakes testing. The pass/fail nature of these tests is simply unfair and wrong in my view.

However, there seems to be another side of this question that bears closer examination. Is grade retention itself an effective strategy for improving student achievement.

Enter the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) with some interesting observations. In a position statement on this subject, the association states "...that as many as 15% of American students are held back each year, and 30% -50% of students in the US are retained at least once before ninth grade. Furthermore, the highest retention rates are found among poor, minority, inner-city youth."

Now I am no supporter of a simple policy of so called "social promotion" either. In fact, the association points out that "...neither grade retention nor social promotion is an effective strategy for improving educational success."

NASP argues in favor of what it calls "promotion plus" specific interventions that focus on student needs. I particularly like the very first thing on its list which is to "encourage parents' involvement in their children's schools and education through frequent contact with teachers, supervision of homework, etc..

Other suggestions include:

-offer extended year, extended day, and summer school programs that focus on facilitating the development of academic skills
-establish full-service schools to provide a community-based vehicle for the organization and delivery of educational, social and health services to meet the diverse needs of at-risk students
-Implement effective school-based mental health programs

NASP says "a recent systematic review of research exploring dropping out of high school indicates that grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout."

With local and national emphasis on understanding and reducing what is called a dropout crisis, it is clear to me that automatic grade retention policies are part of the problem and not the solution. They should be stopped immediately in favor of more innovative approaches. Start with a detailed study of NASP recommendations.

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