Saturday, December 04, 2010

8th-grade retention rate is same as before law required passage of TAKS

Check out an earlier post to this blog titled "HISD considers easing the path to the next grade" on the same issue of retention and promotion policies.


By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Saturday, November 27, 2010

AUSTIN – An education law that was designed to cause more eighth-graders who can't pass the TAKS test to be held back is actually having little impact on the percentage of students who are flunking.

Although the retention rate for eighth-graders jumped the first year they were required to pass the TAKS to be promoted to high school, the rate has now dropped back to what it was before the tough new standard was implemented to help stamp out social promotion in middle schools, new data from the Texas Education Agency shows.

The percentage of students retained for the 2009-10 school year – 1.5 percent of all eighth-graders – was identical to the figure from two years earlier when there was no state requirement for those students to pass the TAKS. In the first year of the testing mandate, nearly 2 percent – 6,323 pupils – were held back in the fall of 2008.

Nearly 40,000 eighth-graders failed the TAKS in 2009, but fewer than one in 10 was held back. Most of those promoted were beneficiaries of a waiver provision that allows a student to move to the next grade if the teacher, parents and principal agree that's best for the child.

State education officials had warned of a possible spike in the number of students flunking. But they said that millions of dollars in additional funding and required remedial classes targeting students who fail the TAKS eliminated the worst-case scenario for the new requirement, called the Student Success Initiative.

Other educators said the low retention rate also reflects how local schools are reluctant to keep low-performing eighth-graders in middle school for an extra year, partly because officials fear they might become more likely to drop out.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said the requirement may have to be studied to see whether it is accomplishing what was intended – curtailing the number of students automatically promoted to the next grade regardless of what they achieve.

"It's important to see how effective this program is and to modify it if it's not," Eissler said. "You don't want to just flow students through the eighth grade and then make it worse when they get to ninth grade."

Last year, Texas spent about $44 million on extra classes, tutoring, summer school and teacher training as part of the Student Success Initiative program.

"The money may be better spent on other programs," Eissler said, noting that lawmakers will be looking at ways to improve middle school education during their next session that begins in January.

Dallas-area rates

Overall, 4 percent of all students in Texas schools – 177,701 pupils – were retained for the 2009-10 school year based on their grades and test scores in the spring of 2009. The highest retention rate in the elementary grades was 5.6 percent in the first grade, and the highest in secondary grades was 12.3 percent in the ninth grade.

Among Dallas-area school districts, overall retention rates ranged from half a percent in Highland Park to 6.2 percent in Duncanville. In the Dallas district, the rate across all grade levels was 5.1 percent, and for eighth-graders 2.5 percent.

Much of the attention in Texas has been on fifth- and eighth-graders because they are the only students required to pass the TAKS to gain promotion under a 1999 law passed by the Legislature to curtail the widespread practice of social promotion.

The law was originally proposed by former Gov. George W. Bush, who persuaded lawmakers to launch the Student Success Initiative program shortly before he became president. Third-graders also came under the original social promotion law, but the Legislature decided to drop them from the testing requirement last year.

For fifth-graders, the retention rate in 2009-10 was 1.7 percent. The vast majority of students who failed the math or reading sections of the TAKS – 87 percent – were promoted using the waiver provision or by giving them an alternative exam.

Dropout concerns

Debbie Ratcliffe of the TEA gave credit to tutoring and other remedial programs that are helping students who fail the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, but she acknowledged that some students are being promoted because of concerns that retention causes some students to drop out of school.

"When you have a student who is not successful at that age, he or she begins to give serious thought to dropping out, and one of the characteristics of a dropout is that they are over-age for their grade level after being retained," she said.

"A lot of schools will go ahead and promote those children [who fail the TAKS], especially if their grades have been fair to good. The idea is to keep them moving forward in the classes where they do well, while the schools try to improve their skills in classes where they have having problems," she said. "One of the strengths of the law is that it causes schools to focus on these struggling students and find ways to help them succeed."

But many educators still question the concept of requiring students to pass a standardized test to be promoted. And minority rights groups criticize the requirement because it has a disproportionate impact on minority students.

Retention rates for black and Hispanic students in Texas in 2009 were more than twice that for white students, as more than three-fourths of all students retained were black or Hispanic, according to TEA figures.

Proponents of the testing requirement say it is unsound to promote students who lack the necessary skills for the next grade level. Groups such as the National Center for Fair and Open Testing argue that retention – based on a test – hurts rather than helps the student.

"Students that have been retained once have a 40 percent higher chance of dropping out and a 60 percent higher chance if retained twice," the center said in a 2007 report. "This happens largely because being over-age in-grade damages students' self-confidence and leads them to disengage from school."

Check out the Dallas-Area Retention Rate Figures

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