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Nearly 9 percent of 1st-grade students in Chicago public schools were forced to repeat the grade last year, and in some schools, the retention rate for 1st graders was more than 20 percent, according to a new study.

The study, "June 1989 Grade Retention in Chicago Public Elementary Schools," was conducted by the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance, a coalition of civic organizations that monitors education. The school district currently is re-evaluating its promotion policy as part of a systemwide reform effort mandated by the state legislature. (See Education Week, May 16, 1990.)

The study found that the citywide retention rate for grades K-8 was 4.3 percent for the year ending last June.

The percentage of students retained, however, varied enormously by grade level, the study found. A higher percentage of students in grade 1 were retained than in any other grade, the study said, while only 0.9 percent of kindergarten students were held back.

Retention rates also varied widely from school to school, the study found. Of the 434 schools with 1st grades, 23 retained 20 percent or more of their 1st-grade students; one school retained more than half of its 1st graders. Another 61 schools, however, retained none of their 1st-grade students.

The study found a number of characteristics that correlated with a school's retention rate. The higher a school's attendance rate, the lower the retention rate, the study found. Also, schools with a higher percentage of low-income students had higher retention rates.

John Q. Easton, research director for the coalition, said he hopes that the Chicago board of education and the new local school councils will review the report in developing new retention policies.

The U.S. Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation of whether Virginia dairies are using anti-competitive practices to make greater profits on school and government contracts.

The federal probe is the second major inquiry into milk contracts in the state. It was requested by Mary Sue Terry, Virginia's attorney general, whose office is conducting a civil investigation of the milk contracts of the state's 133 school districts.

Similar probes have led to convictions of dairy executives in Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky. (See Education Week, Feb. 28, 1990.)

The DeKalb County, Ga., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has asked a federal court to allow it to join the plaintiffs in a 22-year-old desegregation suit.

The naacp chapter has long advised the plaintiffs, but last month's action is its first official attempt to enter the case.

The group's officials said the move was prompted by a new magnet-school plan that the district has proposed The group views the plan as inadequate to meet the needs of minority students.

The DeKalb system has been under federal court order since 1969. Last October, a federal appeals court ruled that the system must consider further steps, including mandatory busing, to desegregate its schools. (See Education Week, Oct. 25, 1989.)

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