A 7-year-old school promotion policy in New York City that targets extra help to students at risk of having to repeat a grade is whittling down the number of students held back and improving struggling students’ test scores, a study finds.
Under the policy, students in grades 3-8 who are at risk of failing promotional-benchmark tests are identified at the beginning of the school year, given additional instructional time, and continuously monitored. If they fail to pass the required tests in the spring, other options kick in, including a review of portfolios of their work or additional testing. Students who still fail to meet the school system’s benchmarks at that point are required to enroll in several weeks of summer school. They are retained in grade if they end up failing end-of-summer tests or last-chance reviews of their work.
For their evaluation of the program, researchers from the RAND Corp., based in Santa Monica, Calif., studied three waves of students moving through the new promotion system, from the time the students entered 5th grade until 8th grade. Although 19 percent to 24 percent of the 60,000 5th graders in the study initially qualified for program assistance, only 2 percent to 3 percent of them ended up having to repeat a grade in the first two cohorts. In the third wave of students, 1 percent were held back.
The researchers also found that some cohorts of students who went through the program scored higher on tests taken in 7th grade than peers who had just missed qualifying for the extra program help back in 5th grade. The boost in scores was strongest, though, for the small number of students who repeated a grade. The study also found that the program had no negative effect on students sense of belonging or their confidence in their mathematics and reading abilitieseven for the grade repeaters. It remains to be seen, the report concludes, whether the programs positive effects carry over to high school.
A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 2009 edition of Education Week as New York City’s Promotion Policy Found to Have Positive Impacts