Student Achievement

Studies Fault Results of Retention In Chicago

By Andrew Trotter — April 14, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Many pupils who are held back in grades 3, 6, and 8 in the Chicago public schools do not benefit from retention, and some do worse than students who are promoted without additional help, according to two major studies released last week.

“Ending Social Promotion: The Effects of Retention,” and “Ending Social Promotion: Dropout Rates in Chicago after Implementation of the Eighth-Grade Promotion Gate,” are available online from the Consortium on Chicago School Research. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, based at the University of Chicago, say the district’s nationally watched remedial programs for retained students are not working for many—a conclusion Chicago school officials disputed.

“Another approach is needed for students who are struggling,” said Jenny Nagaoka, the lead author for the study of retention in grades 3 and 6. “One thing that becomes really clear is that CPS really needs to be focusing on kindergarten and earlier education for 3- and 4-year-olds, before they start school.”

In the other study, which examined the relationship between 8th grade retention and school dropout rates, researcher Elaine Allensworth, the consortium’s associate director for statistical analysis and archives, found that 78 percent of the students retained in 8th grade dropped out by the time they turned 19.

Chicago’s retention policy, implemented in the 1996-97 school year and modified slightly periodically, holds students in the current grade if they fail to achieve the minimum scores in reading and mathematics in May on the 3rd, 6th, and 8th grade versions of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. The policy replaced “social promotion,” which favors advancing students to keep them with children their own age.

Under the policy, between 7,000 and 10,000 students are held back in grades, 3, 6, and 8 each year in the 434,000-student district.

Students who don’t achieve the cutoff scores attend the “Summer Bridge” program, a summer school that lasts six weeks for 3rd and 6th graders and eight weeks for 8th graders. At the end of summer, pupils take the tests again. If they still don’t pass, they start school again in the same grade. In the third and fourth years of the policy, students had one more chance to rejoin their peers by retaking the tests in January and scoring above the cutoffs.

Many students’ test scores do improve after the summer program—a bright spot in the researchers’ findings, according to Ms. Nagaoka, a staff researcher at the University of Chicago’s school of social service administration. Co-author Melissa Roderick is an associate professor there. The researchers said that for other students, retention has not been an effective policy. “We are still left with a group of kids for whom it doesn’t seem that working harder and so forth is having an effect,” Ms. Nagaoka said.

Still Behind

And even students who barely exceeded the cutoff scores don’t do much better than retained students, researchers found.

“Students in 3rd grade who barely avoided being retained are doing slightly better, by 6th and 8th grade, than kids who were retained, but they’re still far behind” other students, Ms. Nagaoka said.

One reason is that teachers don’t know methods for helping very low-performing students, whose troubles may be misdiagnosed as learning disabilities. Indeed, the 3rd and 6th grade study found that almost 20 percent of the retained students were placed in special education, possibly as a last-ditch strategy by teachers who didn’t know what else to do, Ms. Nagaoka said.

Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago schools, said in a statement that he disagreed with the view that the retention policy is ineffective. "[C]ommon sense, and even some research by the consortium, tells you that ending social promotions contributed to the higher test scores and lower dropout rates of the last eight years,” he said.

The Chicago district unveiled plans last month, in fact, to start an intensive reading program at elementary schools with high retention rates. Kindergartners at those schools will undergo literacy assessments, continuing through 3rd grade. Other plans include full- day kindergarten; “looping” of teachers so students will have the same teacher for consecutive years; a mandatory summer program; and smaller class sizes.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Letter to the Editor We Must Reimagine Our Ed. System, NAEP Results Show
Let’s use this as an opportunity to reenvision how our education system operates, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
Student Achievement What’s Academic Recovery Looked Like So Far? Slow and Uneven, New Data Show
Interim test results paint a complicated picture of the 2021-22 school year. 
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration of people climbing data
hyejin kang/iStock/Getty
Student Achievement The Pandemic Was a 'Wrecking Ball' for K-12, and We're Still Tallying the Damage
Academic problems, mental health issues, and long-term grief are still taking their toll on K-12 schools.
3 min read
Image of the concept of domino effect.
Underneon Studio/iStock/Getty
Student Achievement Digging Deeper Into the Stark Declines on NAEP: 5 Things to Know
What the national assessment can—and can’t—illuminate about the effects of the past two pandemic years.
9 min read
Image of a test sheet.
Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock/Getty