According to Benjamin Franklin, the proper education of the youth should always be the most important social policy (Hochschild, Scovronick, & Scovronick, 2003). Education is an important element in the development of humankind, which is why schools have been established as special places with a particular purpose of providing a venue for learning and to be subjected under the guidance of teachers (Dearden, 2012). However, in the case of American education, public schools have become not just a place of learning, but have also become a government institution wherein decisions regarding education are formulated in a political venue. In this sense, the primary goal of primary schools is also affected by conflicts in terms of policy and implementation. Thus, public schools are often centers for changing educational policies that may or may not aid teachers and students to achieve learning (Dearden, 2012).
School districts in the United States currently require students to pass assessments prior to progressing to the subsequent grade level. If students are not able to pass, then they are retained in their current grade level. This policy is commonly referred to as the mandatory retention policy (Hong & Raudenbush, 2005). In the state of Florida, the policy started in 2003. The rationale of the above policy is to ensure that students are not promoted to the next grade in the event that they are incapable of proving the fundamental skills assessed in educational examinations. This is contrast to another form of policy called “social promotion” where students with failing grades are permitted to move on the next grade level but are required to attend remedial classes (Brophy, 2006). In recent years, a number of studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the policy and has gained a range of positive results in terms of academic achievement and dropout rates (Weissberg, 2010; Stone & Engel, 2007; Lorence & Dworkin, 2006; Dong, 2010).
Despite empirical studies confirming the positive effects of mandatory retention on academic achievement among students (Weissberg, 2010; Stone & Engel, 2007; Lorence & Dworkin, 2006; Dong, 2010), the policy has been faced with a number of issues and challenges. Because failed students are not permitted to move on to the next grade resulting to an extension of the number of years they have to stay in elementary, the mandatory retention policy has continued to generate controversy, in that several schools and parents have failed to reach a consensus on whether a student who fails in their educational examinations should be retained (Lunenburg & Ornstein, 2012). Several studies have concluded that retention does not necessarily facilitate improvement in the case of a student’s inability to demonstrate the requisite educational skills (Stone, Engel, Nagaoka, & Roderick, 2005; Roderick & Nagaoka, 2005; Jimerson, Anderson, & Whipple, 2002; Neild, 2009). Additionally, O’Donnell and Reeve (2009) stated that retention is considered to be retrogressive since in most cases it could prove more detrimental than beneficial. Some of these repercussions even have the risk of affecting the students beyond their repeated year. On the other hand, teachers, parents, and politicians have criticized social promotion just the same (Frey, 2005).
In order to address the issues regarding poor academic achievement among students, the United States government responded with a different strategy, which has resulted in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. NCLB was established to hold school districts accountable for their students’ success. It recommended mandatory retention for students who failed to clear a few specified tests in key subjects. Although empirical efforts have been initiated to generate evidence-based research that will determine the best strategies for assisting students with poor academic standing, findings have been inconsistent (Stone, Engel, Nagaoka, & Roderick, 2005; Roderick & Nagaoka, 2005; Stone & Engel, 2007; Lorence & Dworkin, 2006). Because of conflicting findings, more research appears to be needed in order to investigate the effectiveness of various school policies on the achievement of various educational goals among public schools.
Across the United States, all school districts require their students to pass standardized academic assessments before they are able to proceed to the next grade level. At present, Florida’s public schools, including public schools in the county where the study will take place, measure academic achievement using the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) along with their grades. As an intervention for those students who were not able to pass the assessments, the state of Florida implemented the mandatory retention program which started implementation among 3rd grade students in 2003. This is under the rationale that students who failed the assessments should be retained until they become proficient in grade-level curriculum and ready to proceed to the next grade level (Hong & Raudenbush, 2005). However, many studies conducted on the effect of retention policies on academic achievement have used various types of assessment, which may not be equally measure academic achievement in all states in the country. Also, despite the availability of archived data in terms of academic achievement, graduation rates, and dropout rates in the Florida State, empirical data appears to be lacking in terms of the effects of the mandatory retention policy on academic achievement, graduation, and dropout rates using statistical testing. Empirical studies conducted on the effects of retention on the said variables appear to produce contradicting and inconsistent findings, which make it hard to establish future actions in the development of education in the district (Weissberg, 2010; Stone & Engel, 2007; Lorence & Dworkin, 2006; Dong, 2010; Stone, Engel, Nagaoka, & Roderick, 2005; Roderick & Nagaoka, 2005; Jimerson, Anderson, & Whipple, 2002; Neild, 2009). While the Florida Department of Education has produced a steady flow of information, no school-based empirical studies have ever been conducted on the outcomes of the mandatory retention policies implemented by the Department (Florida Department of Education, 2014). The data presented by the Department from before the implementation of the mandatory retention policy and after its implementation does not appear to be conclusive with regards to the effects of the policy as no statistical studies have been conducted (Florida Department of Education, 2014). Much of the data have focused on archival data to the extent that no further analysis was conducted to determine statistical trends that may lead to possible effects and relationships between the policy and school outcomes. There are also no local data available that will show any deeper analysis which evaluates the effectiveness of retention in the county in central Florida.
Because of this, it is apparent that a problem in clearly determining the effects of mandatory retention policies on academic achievement and graduation rates in the district is salient. Therefore, this study intends to investigate the effects of mandatory grade retention on the academic achievement and graduation rates by statistically comparing data from before and after the policy was implemented in the county in central Florida in 2003.
The topic. Academic achievement is one of the main measures of learning and education. In the classroom, not all students are able to achieve and progress in the same way. If this is not addressed, students may underperform when they are assessed which hinders them from graduating. It is for this reason why mandatory retention has been introduced (Ehmke, Drechsel, & Carstensen, Effects of grade retention on achievement and sellf-concept in science and mathematics, 2010).
The graduation rates in the United States do not compare very favorably with several other nations of the world. Thirty percent of U.S. high school graduates do not proceed to college after graduation (Cookson, 2011). Table 1 shows the numbers of students from Grade 6 to Grade 12 not promoted in the last decade.
Florida Non-promotions, Grades 6-12 (2010-2013).
In terms of graduation in Florida, the rates tend to rise (Figure 1) but are frequently unreliable, at times even controversial, because the United States does not follow a uniform method of evaluating graduation across all the states (Sellers, 2012). Even within the state of Florida, there are different graduation rates, such as the NGA (National Governors’ Alliance) and the compact graduation rate. The NGA is the measure for graduation rates influenced by the nation’s governors as basis for the implementation of national policies (Curran & Reyna, 2010). The latter rate comprises both the special and standard recipients of diplomas as graduates, excluding General Educational Development (GEDs) as alumnae, whether adult or regular. It does not include those who have transferred to adult education from the regular one. The above system is employed in the calculation of high school grades in Florida’s school accountability system (Education Information and Accountability Services, 2011).
Figure 1. Florida Public High School Graduation Rates (2003-2004 through 2012-2013)
Figure 1 shows the graduation rates of public schools in central Florida from 2003 through 2013. On the other hand, as per record, the district and state shows non-promotion rates of 1.3% and 2% for the school year 2012-2013.
Background and justification. According to the Center for National Education and Statistics (CNES), the national graduation rate was 78.4% in 2010, while the graduation rate in Florida was 70.8%. Although the graduation rate increased from 2009-2010 in this county it still remained lower than the national average of 78.4% (Stillwell & Sable, 2013). The Education Information and Accountability Services (EIAS) Data Report stated that Florida retained 6.1% of its students for the 2009-2010 school years (Education Information and Accountability Services, 2011). That same report indicated that the researcher’s county retained 10% of its students, which is significantly higher than the overall average retention rate for the state of Florida, which is 8.3%. On the other hand, as shown in Figure 1, graduation rates appear to have risen in 2012-2013 at 75.9%. Dropout rates were reported to be at 4.6% but 19.8% of the students was retained (Education Information and Accountability Services, 2013).
High school students that do not graduate translate to high costs to society. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education (2011), dropping out of school increases the chances of remaining unemployed by up to 40%. In addition, if a person secures employment, they will earn half of what he could have earned 20 years ago. Moreover, dropouts tends to cost the society up to $240,000 in terms on reliance on Medicare and Medicate, lower tax payment, involvement in crime and reliance on well-wishers. This picture has also been painted by the Alliance for Excellent Education in 2007 in relation to school dropouts. It was noted that every school day, almost 7,000 students become dropouts, which amounts to about 1.2 million students annually who will not graduate as scheduled. The graduation rates of the United States in general and of Florida in particular indicate that there are several significant issues in the education system that are bound to have major social and economic consequences unless appropriate measures are initiated timely (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007). Based on the data provided in terms of significant concerns related to the academic achievement, graduation rates, and dropout rates, there is a clear need to further investigate the effects of retention on the public schools in Florida, particularly in Orlando.
Students who have not met the essential requirements with regards to the key subjects of mathematics, science, English, and history are required to repeat the grade in which they did not master the basic skills required for promotion. Research has found that the negative attention given to the retained students leads to their continued poor academic success and declining self-concept, thereby increasing the probability of their dropping out (Weissberg, 2010). Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence on the underlying problem of school dropout rates in our Public educational system (Sellers, 2012). It is therefore necessary to determine whether the mandatory retention policy has a significant effect on school graduation rate and student academic achievement in the county in central Florida which the study will take place.
Success for all students is the priority of several stakeholders: students, parents, schools, school districts, communities and government policies. Understanding how mandatory retention affects the students who do not graduate will benefit all parties involved when making laws that affect the outcome of student promotion.
The students in Florida will benefit most from the findings of this study as it will determine whether or not staying for another year in the same grade after failing would improve their academic performance and ensure that they end up graduating. It is also important to take note that when students are retained, their stay in school will be extended as they are required to stay for a year longer. By determining the effects of the mandatory retention policy about their schools’ graduation rate, dropout rate, and academic performance, it will be more possible for school teachers and administrators to implement better strategies to make sure students are able to attain their goals in school. Parents of the students will also benefit from the findings of this study as parents are a significant part of the support system of the students. Because retention means repeating a year in the same grade, parents will be inclined to invest more resources (e.g. time, money, etc.) on their children’s schooling in order to make sure they meet the academic requirements of the grade. Should it be shown in the study that mandatory retention is not an effective policy; parents will be guided properly as to where they should allot their resources for their children’s education.
Schools, communities, and government policy making bodies will also benefit from this study as findings may be able to aid in the legislation of new education laws and policies that will help students in the Florida District to improve their academic performance and their schools’ graduation rates. The findings of this study will also aid law making bodies in implementing policies that will result in the decrease of dropout rates in the district.
This proposed research study seeks to explore and investigate the effects of the mandatory retention policy on Florida district’s public schools on the academic achievement of students and graduation rates of public schools, particularly the public schools in the county in central Florida, since the inception of the state’s Mandatory Retention Policy of 2003. The purpose of this study is to examine various aspects of the mandatory retention policy, such as the academic effects on the students retained and their subsequent and the linkages – if any can be determined – that the retentions have with the dropout rate and the graduation rate. This study aims to investigate this link by analyzing the quantitative data at the middle school level in the researcher’s school district.
This section presents the definition of major concepts and terms that are related to the study.
Grade retention or mandatory retention: This refers to a student being retained to repeat a grade upon exhibition that the student is lacking in the requisite skills (Inman, 2008).
Good Cause Exemption: This is an alternative to a student’s progress to the subsequent grade level upon the student exhibiting understanding of the study material (Inman, 2008).
The main reasons for implementing mandatory retention is to improve academic achievement among struggling students as well as to improve the graduation rates among schools (Florida Department of Education, 2008). Thus, this study leans on the concept that retention as a significant effect on student academic achievement and school graduation rates. This study also leans on the model developed by Ehmke et al. (2010) which highlights two major concepts as shown in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2. Conceptual Paradigm
The first concept is that retained students benefit from retention because they are freed from belonging to a group of students with low academic achievement in the classroom and that they are now working in a classroom environment with low academic expectations. This therefore leads to higher academic self-concept, which produces higher performance after the retention year. The second concept is that retained students may eventually drop out of school because changing into a younger class could lead to stigmatization along with difficulties in adjusting to a new peer group.
Ehmke et al. (2010) explained that because students are separated from their class to be retained, they no longer feel the pressure of catching up with their peers as they can repeat academic milestones with new peers who are yet to have an idea of the lessons in their grade level. Retention has a positive effect on academic achievement among retained students because retention increases their academic self-concept and self-esteem. This concept was supported in the study of Aryana (2010) wherein retention was found to be significantly linked to high academic self-esteem and self-concept. This link also tends to be strengthened by personality traits that also contribute to academic achievement (Caprara et al., 2011)
The second concept in this present study suggests that retention may have a negative effect on graduation rates as students are forced to adjust to a new peer group that is younger than them. Several studies such as the ones conducted by Glick and Sahn (2010), Bornsheuer et al. (2011), Penfield (2010), and Quiroga et al., (2012) supported each other in concluding that retained students eventually are dropouts in secondary schools. According to Ritzema and Shaw (2012), one of the main reasons for dropping out is depression, wherein students retained multiple times, eventually lose their self-esteem and no longer desire to continue with their schooling. On the other hand, Huddleston (2014) and Tinto (2004) stated that this is because most schools do not have the resources to implement interventions such as financial support systems as well as developing teaching skills for teachers handling retained students.
Since 1999, the educational system in Florida has been dominated by a significant number of political initiatives, such as raising academic standards and creating competitive school choice options. Most of these were begun during the administration of Governor Jeb Bush. Such policies have re-shaped K-12 and higher education systems and tackled a number of important issues involving students, teachers, and school administrators (Borman & Dorn, Introduction: Issues in Florida Education Reform, 2007). Several authors discuss two of the most important indicators for success of educational policies have always included academic achievement (Hall, 2007; Borman, et al., 2004) and graduation rates (Orfield, Losen, Wald, & Swanson, 2004; Graves, 2008; Shah, 2013; Samuels, 2008).
The academic achievement of students is considered as the basis for almost all aspects of education. This is because academic achievement provides the direction to all educational policies and programs (Guskey, 2013). This makes academic achievement as a multifaceted construct (Guskey, 2013). For example, in a study conducted by Aryana (2010), academic achievement has been linked to high levels of self-esteem. In 2014, Jeynes found that the involvement of fathers has a significant effect on student academic achievement (Jeynes, 2014). Capraram, Vecchione, Alessandri, Gerbino, and Barbaranelli (2011) looked into personality traits as significant contributors to academic achievement while some researchers such as Junco (2011) have focused on external factors such as the use of social networking sites like Facebook.
Aside from academic achievement, educational policies are also being shaped by graduation rates. For many years, graduation rates have been used as a gauge of the health of American society in terms of the skills of its future workforce. The upward trend in graduation rates has been found to be correlated with increases in worker productivity, high economic growth (Heckman & LaFontaine, 2010), and student mobility (Ross, 2014). At present, the graduation rates in the United States have been affected by a number of factors such as student absenteeism, suspension, low student achievement and poverty (Shah, 2013; Samuels, 2008). This has further pushed the government to implement more policies to improve academic achievement and graduation rates. This includes the “No Child Left behind Act” of 2001, which eventually led to the establishment of the mandatory retention policy (Cannon & Lipscomb, 2011; Briggs, 2013; Whitney, 2014; The Florida Legislature, 2014). At present, there are now 32 states that have legislation to improve reading proficiency among students while 16 states, including the District of Columbia, already have mandatory retention laws for students who fail to meet the standards (Ventura, 2013).
Mandatory retention has been part of the American educational system for many years and has been notable in the first and third grade levels in elementary schools as well as in Grades 9, 10, and 11 in secondary schools. In 2002-2003, the salient increase in the number of retained students in Florida has been due to the implementation of new state laws that requires the mandatory retention of third grade students who failed to reach the required skills and knowledge by the end of the year. This has led to a significant 71% increase in non-promotions among third grade students alone. In recent years, retention in 9 to 12 has also increased because of the increasing requirements for graduation as well as the challenging curriculum (Ventura, 2013).
This chapter shows that in the past 10 years, that there have been numerous studies conducted on the effects of mandatory retention on academic achievement and dropout rates among various states across the United States and even abroad. However, the findings of these studies have appeared to vary in many different ways, such as the type of students, teachers, location, and gender. In order to explore the relationship between mandatory retention and graduation rates, and to determine the effect of mandatory retention on student academic achievement, this chapter discusses a review of empirical literature on the effects of grade retention on student academic achievement and school graduation rates. This chapter also presents the conceptual framework, research questions, and research hypotheses of the present study.
In a wide range of studies, mandatory retention policies have resulted to a mixture of positive and negative effects as studies have been shown to have a positive effect on student achievement and graduation rates (Hughes, Chen, Thoemmes, & Kwok, 2010; Schwerdt & West, 2012; Babcock & Bedard, 2001; Mariano & Martorell, 2013; Balkcom, 2014), while some have concluded otherwise (Ehmke, Drechsel, & Carstensen, 2010; Chen, Liu, Zhang, Shi, & Rozelle, 2010; Im, et al., 2013; Garcia-Perez & Hiladgo, 2014; Belot & Vandenberghe, 2014). For example, in a review of the literature conducted by Range, Dougan, and Pijanowski (2011), retaining failing students in their early elementary years resulted in higher academic achievement when they reach higher grades. Retention was also found to improve the academic performance of retained students to an extent that retained students could outperform continuously promoted students. On the other hand, the review of Range et al. also showed that retention can be associated with socio-emotional issues and problem behaviors as well as low academic performance when students reach their higher years or when they enter secondary education.
There are a number of variables that are associated with grade retention among elementary school students. According to Hill (2010), grade retention significantly depends on a number of factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender. In a study by Huang (2014) among kindergarten students, younger students were found to be five times more likely to be retained in kindergarten as compared to older students. This is after gathering data from 1,187 participants from a large 3-A school district in Northeast Texas. The findings also showed that other factors such as attentiveness and task persistence continued to the likelihood of retention as much as student academic capabilities. According to Cannon and Lipscomb (2011), students still appear to manifest low academic achievement even if all the other factors such as ethnicity, gender, health, and economic status are made equal. However, Cannon and Lipscomb also explained that mandatory retention is a severe but beneficial step for struggling students, especially in terms of their academic achievement and schools’ graduation rates (Education Information & Accountability Services, 2009).
As findings on the effect of retention on academic achievement have been very much varied, recent literature on the effect of the policy on graduation rates have been shown to be majorly suggest that retention leads to low graduation rates and even increases in dropout rates (Glick & Sahn, 2010; Penfield, 2010; Bornsheuer, Polonyi, Andrews, Fore, & Onwuegbuzie, 2011; Quiroga, Janosz, Lyons, & Morin, 2012; Ritzema & Shaw, 2012). Only a few studies were able to suggest that retention can be beneficial to graduation rates (Hickman & Wright, 2011), with one study questioning the methods as to how studies were able to arrive at the conclusion that retention is harmful on graduation (Huddleston, 2014), and one study exerting that additional interventions should be implemented in order to fulfil the benefits of grade retention (Tinto, 2004).
Effect on Academic Achievement. Academic achievement is considered as one of the most significant indicators of student and school success across all studies on student and curriculum development (Guskey, 2013). This is also true in terms of investigating the effects f mandatory retention. According to Balkcom (2014), one of the most successful mandatory retention policies in the United States is the one implemented by the state of Florida, which requires failing students to repeat their third grade. Balkcom (2014) highlighted a report by the Department of Education in Florida in 2006 showing that 62% of students who repeated their third grade eventually improved their performance over the following year. Those who were retained also received a more intensive type of instruction. Balkcom (2014) also discussed that the retention policy in Florida works because the policy requires schools to provide reading enhancement as well as acceleration strategies to aid retained students so that they may be able to catch up to their classmates. According to Mariano and Martorell (2013), retention is also effective among schools in New York. The researchers made use of test score cutoffs in English language arts (ELA) and math to measure performance. The findings showed that retention had a significant positive effect on the ELA and math scores through seventh grade, suggesting that another year of instruction in the fifth grade is beneficial to failing students.
Aside from these studies conducted by Balkcom (2013) and Mariano and Martorell (2013), many other investigations were conducted. Among the studies on the direct effects of retention on student outcomes were also studied on the short-term and long-term effects of the policy on academic achievement (Hughes et al., 2010; Babcock & Bedard, 2011; Schwerdt & West, 2012), and the subjective effects of the policy among teachers, students, and school administrators (Renaud, 2010; Range et al., 2012; Smith & Herzog, 2014).
Short-term versus long term effects on academic achievement. Some studies suggest that retention does not only improve the academic performance of students as they repeat the grade, but also increase the likelihood of success when they reach higher grades. For example, Hughes et al. (2010) investigated the relationship between grade retention in first grade and passing the third grade state accountability tests in reading and math. The researchers of the study made use of a sample consisting of 769 students in the first grade. One hundred sixty-five of the students were retained in the first grade while the other 604 were promoted. Propensity matching was used to analyze the data. The results showed a significant positive relationship between retention and math scores when the students reached the third grade, while a marginally significant relationship was found between retention and reading scores. Schwerdt and West (2012) investigated the effectiveness of early grade retention on student outcomes in Florida. Early retention was found to manifest short-term gains in terms of achievement among retained students. Retention was also found to significantly reduce the probability of retention in the succeeding years. In terms of long term student outcomes, a study was conducted by Babcock and Bedard (2011) on retention in relation to hourly wages in the long run. The results of the study showed that early grade retention eventually leads to 0.7% increase in mean hourly wages.
Aside from student data from the U.S. Department of Education (Mariano & Martorell, 2013; Balkcom, 2014), studies also looked at the perception of teachers and school administrators on the effect of retention on the achievement of students. In Florida, Wynn found in a sample of 326 teachers that majority of them agreed that retention is necessary. Seventy percent of the teachers also reported to agree that poor academic achievement is the main reason why students should be retained, while 65% believed that grade retention enables failing students to “catch up” with their peers. In a study conducted by Range, Holt et al. (2012), teachers and principals who participated in a paper survey were found to believe that students should be retained because of poor academic performance. Teachers were found to believe more than principals that retention helps prevent future failure among students as well as maintain academic standards. Teachers also believed that retention assists teachers in terms of providing additional math support and motivates students to attend school. The same findings were exhibited in an earlier study conducted by Renaud (2010), although teachers were found to be pressured and accountable from high stakes testing as they feel that test results should only be one of the many factors to be considered for retention.
Aside from teachers, some of the students themselves believe that retention was able to positively contribute to their academic performance and achievement. In a phenomenological study conducted by Smith and Herzog (2014), the experiences of senior high school students who were held back one grade in elementary school were investigated. In the study, the students shared that when they got retained they were afraid that they would lose their friends. However, the students were able to manifest resiliency and were able to overcome their challenges and achievements in school. The findings of the study also showed that other factors such as family support, early academic interventions, as well as extracurricular activities played a role in the academic success of the students in high school, even though they were retained a grade in elementary school.
Based on the findings delivered by recent studies mentioned, mandatory mention appears to exhibit a positive effect on the academic performance of students. These findings also suggest that aside from the short-term effects of retention such as high test scores and higher classroom performance, retention also increases the likelihood of future academic success as students move on to the higher grade levels (Hughes et al., 2010; Babcock & Bedard, 2011; Schwerdt & West, 2012). While test scores measured suggest this as factual, the students and teachers themselves also tend to believe that retaining a grade for another year is helpful in improving academic achievement (Renaud, 2010; Range, Holt, Pijanowski, & Young, 2012; Smith & Herzog, 2014). There is still a bulk of empirical data that could not agree to such findings and has therefore arrived at contradicting conclusions.
The majority of the recent studies on grade retention and graduation have shown that retention has a negative effect on graduation (Ritzema & Shaw, 2012; Quiroga et al., 2012; Penfield, 2010; Bornsheuer et al., 2011). However, there are also studies that show that retention is beneficial on graduation rates among schools. In contrast, some of these studies appear to have been conducted later the 2010 while only a few have been recently conducted. For example, Tinto (2004) explained that retention can increase graduation rates by improving financial support systems as well as developing teaching skills for teachers handling retained students. Hickman and Wright (2011) examined the different predictors of high school graduation among at-risk adolescents who are enrolled in a youth-based mentoring program. The predictors tested included GPAs, grade retention, as well as math and reading proficiency scores. The results of the study showed that grade retention was able to significantly predict graduation, but only among the male students.
Although for a number of years studies on retention have increased, the findings of these studies have proved to be mixed. For example, Im, Hughes, Kwok, Puckett, and Cerda (2013) investigated the effect of retention in elementary grades on transition to middle school. The researchers of the study used a sample of 784 students wherein 75 students subsequently retained in Grades 1 to 5 were matched with an average of 299 continuously promoted students. The researchers tested the hypothesis that retained students would have more difficulty in their transition to middle school as compared to continuously promoted students. The students were measured in terms of reading and math achievement. The results of the study showed that retained and continuously promoted students did not differ in terms of their post-transition developments in terms of reading and math achievement. These findings suggest that after retention, both retained and continuously promoted students no longer differed in terms of their academic achievement. However, in the investigation by Chen et al. (2010) showed different results. Using a sample consisting of 1,649 students from 36 elementary schools in the Shaanxi province in China, a survey was used to measure school performance before and after they were retained. Differences-in-differences matching approaches were used to analyze the effect of grade retention on academic achievement. The results of the descriptive analysis showed that retention has a positive effect on the scores of the students who were retained. However, the results of the multivariate analysis showed that retention does not have a significant statistical effect on the performance of the students. Moreover, the findings showed that retention actually harm school performance in some cases. In Spain, Garcia-Perez and Hidalgo (2014) also concluded that grade retention has a negative impact on educational outcomes. The study measured Spanish students’ academic achievement using data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The researchers also concluded that students who were retained in elementary school suffered more than those who were retained during high school. The same conclusions were generated in the Belgian study conducted by Belot and Vandenberghe (2014), as no evidence was found to support the notion that retention was able to increase the standardized test scores of retained students.
The same conclusions as to the study of Chen et al. (2010) were reached in the study conducted by Ehmke, Drechsel, and Carstensen (2010) on the effect of grade retention on achievement and self-concept of students in terms of science and mathematics subjects among 9th grade students in Germany. The researchers compared achievement and self-concept data between retained students, matched group of promoted students, and the entire group of promoted students. The findings showed that even though self-concept in mathematics improved among retained students as compared to before they were retained, no significant statistical effect was found concerning the effect of retention of the students’ achievement in both subjects. The researchers concluded that retention failed to reduce the gap in achievement between retained and promoted students. In a study conducted by Goos, Van Damme, Onghena, Petry, and Bilde (2013), retention was also found to be less helpful for struggling students. The study involved primary school students in a Flemish educational context where they are taught in similar curricular year groups. The goals of the curriculum were the same for all students, regardless of their ability. Three-level curvilinear growth curve models, including both grade and age comparisons, were used in order to measure the students’ math, reading, and psychosocial skills.
Some studies claim that low academic achievement can be addressed more using different approaches other than grade retention, while some studies claim that there are other factors associated with low achievement that cannot be solely addressed by retention. According to Dombek and Connor (2012), achievement for students struggling academically is facilitated with efficacious instruction more effectively than with the use of retention. In their study, the researchers investigated whether effective instruction could reduce rates of retention in first grade. The researchers also compared the reading instructions received between retained and non-retained students, as well as their self-regulation. The results of the study suggested that students were less likely to be retained if their teacher implemented a more efficacious reading instruction. The results also showed a significant difference between the literary instruction given to the retained students as compared to non-retained students. Also, students who were given efficacious instruction and then retained significantly showed weaker self-regulation skills as compared to their non-retained peers. It is also possible that retained students only improved their social abilities and not necessarily their academic performance. In a study conducted by Gottfried (2012), it was found that there is still a post-retention gap between retained and non-retained students. The study aimed to instigate how classroom composition relates to the standardized-testing performance of grade-retained students in their post-retained years. The study involved a sample of entire cohorts of urban elementary school students in the Philadelphia School District that were observed for a period of 6 years. The findings of the study showed that retained students in classrooms with higher average and greater standard deviation in terms of peer ability tend to have lower test scores during their post-retention years. Gottfried also found in his study in 2013 that a greater number of retained students in the classroom would be damaging to the standardized achievement outcomes of non-retained students. In the review of the literature conducted by Lynch (2013) and Tingle, Shoeneberger, and Algozzine (2014), some effective alternatives to retention include the intensification of learning, the provision of professional development to enhance the skills of teachers, expanded learning options, as well as early interventions for failing students. However, Lynch (2013) also mentioned that these alternatives are not usually available to many failing students and that the education system is not presently equipped to support the implementation of these alternative interventions. Tingle et al. (2014) pointed out that it is the responsibility of the district leadership to identify research-based educational interventions that aim to provide effective teaching for struggling students and not just assume that another year in the same grade can improve their academic performance.
As many findings have clashed in terms of whether or not grade retention is effective in improving academic achievement among students, there are also studies showing that retention is an effective intervention in improving academic achievement but only in a short period of time. In a study conducted by Lamote, Pinxten, Van Den Noortgate, and Van Damme (2014) have shown that retention actually has positive effects on academic achievement among primary school students but appears to decline in the long run. The researchers also found that retention did not have an effect on the academic self-concept of the students. In a related study, Moser, West, and Hughes (2012) also investigated the effects of retention in first grade on growth in terms of math and reading achievement. The study made use of a sample composed of 784 children from Grades 1 to 5. Academic achievement was measured using the Woodcock-Johnson W scores. After using a longitudinal growth curve analysis, the trajectories of reading and math tests of the students were compared. The results of the study showed that retained children were able to get a one-year boost in terms of achievement, but tend to dissipate by the end of primary school. These findings were supported by an earlier study by Ou and Reynolds (2010) in their investigation as to whether retention is associated with participation in postsecondary education as well as receipt of public aid. The study made use of a sample consisting of 1,367 participants whose data are made available when they reach the age of 24. Using regression and propensity score matching, the results of the study showed a significant relationship between retention and lower rates of participation in postsecondary education. While no significant relationship was found between retention and receipt of public aid, it was found that students who were retained late were more likely to have lower rates in postsecondary education as compared to students who were retained earlier. On the other hand, Schwerdt and West (2012) argued that suggesting retention is ineffective in the long run is misleading because of the unobserved differences between retained and continuously promoted students. Moon, et al. (2013) also defended retention by explaining that the negative long term effects of retention can be addressed by implementing a number of interventions such as supplemental instruction.
Effect on graduation rate. Recent studies on the effects of grade retention on graduation rates among students appears to suggest that retention leads to decreases in graduation rates and even increases dropout rates. This also appears to suggest that in order to study the graduation rates, a picture of the effects of retention on dropout rates must also be highlighted as a cause. For example, in a study conducted by Glick and Sahn (2010), data consisting of test scores for children in Senegal from the second grade with information on their successive school performance after 7 years were used. The aim of the study was to investigate the children’s early academic achievement, grade retention, and early dropout. The results of the study showed that students who repeated their second grade were more likely to drop out of elementary school as compared to their non-retained peers. In a study conducted by Bornsheuer et al. (2011), a sample of 1,202 students was used in order to measure ninth-grade retention and dropout rates. The aim of the study was to determine the relationship between ninth grade retention and on-time graduation. Using chi-square analysis, the results of the study showed that there is a significant statistical relationship between grade retention and graduating on time. Penfield (2010) explained that studies on the effects of retention on high school dropout are nearly unanimous with the conclusion that retained students are more likely to dropout from high school as compared to non-retained students.
Effect of Retention. The conclusion that retention hampers graduation was further supported in the study conducted by Quiroga et al. (2012) wherein the primary school retention and secondary school dropout status was investigated among 453 7th grade students. The researchers hypothesized that depression mediated the relationship between retention and dropout rates among students. The findings showed that out of the 453 students, 16% reported lifetime depression and 13% reported depression in their 7th grade. Also, almost 32% of the students dropped out of school. Using logistic regression models, the study showed that retained students tend to be 5.54 times more likely to drop out of school. Also, the study confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis as depression was able to moderate the link between retention and dropout rates. This suggests that students with earlier academic failure tend to experience depression, which hinders their academic perseverance eventually leading to dropping out. In a study conducted by Cratty (2012), 19% of 1997-1998 third graders in North Carolina were found to drop out of high school. Cratty (2012), found that retention is one of the variables that predict dropping out of school among these students, along with math and reading test scores, absenteeism, and suspension when they reached 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 9th grade.
In a study conducted by Ritzema and Shaw (2012), 26 out of 32 retained students were found to be exhibiting depression symptoms above the clinical cutoff. This is despite the fact that the achievement gap tightened after failing students retained one grade level. The retrospective study aimed to investigate the effect of grade retention in a sample composed of students with borderline intellectual functioning. However, this relationship further suggests that students who were retained for more than six times in the ninth grade were more likely to not graduate as compared to those who were not retained at all.
According to Huddleston (2014), grade retention is not effective because it heavily relies on standardized tests. In Huddleston’s review of studies on test-based retention policies, it was found that the brief advantages of retention tend to fade over time and students eventually fall behind again but with higher likelihood of dropping out of school.
The studies conducted on the effects of the mandatory retention policy for the academic achievement of students and on graduation rates appear to be diverse as studies tend to produce various results and findings. In the same way, this review has featured a list of empirical sources with a wide variety of methodologies used in producing results. These methodologies include quantitative, qualitative, and mixed method researches along with some meta-analyses or review of literature. While these methodologies have proven to be diverse, most studies on the effect of retention on academic achievement and graduation rates were quantitative and made use of statistical analysis. The mixed method design was the least used method in determining the effects of retention.
Quantitative studies. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, most studies on the effects of retention have used quantitative methods. Most of these studies have focused on using reading and mathematics scores in measuring academic achievement. These include the studies conducted by Hughes et al. (2010), Schwerdt and West (2012), Mariano and Martorell (2013), Im et al. (2013), Goos et al. (2013), Moser et al. (2012), Dombek and Connor (2012), and Hickman and Wright (2011). Science scores were also used in the study conducted by Ehmkem, Drechsel, and Carstensen (2010). In terms of investigating the effects of retention on academic achievement, test of differences was often used to compare performance between retained and non-retained students, and between pre- and post-retention scores. These tests of differences were used in the studies conducted by Hughes, Chen, Thoemmes, and Kwok (2010), Mariano and Martorell (2013), Chen et al. (2010), Dombek and Connor (2012), and Glick and Sahn (2010).
Correlation and regression studies were used by Schwerdt and West (2012), Ehmkem et al. (2010), Ou and Reynolds (2010), Bornsheuer et al. (2011), Quiroga et al. (2012), Cratty (2012), Ritzema and Shaw (2012), and Hickman and Wright (2011). Almost all of these studies were used to test the effect of retention in graduation or dropout rates. Other studies made use of curvilinear growth curve analysis and repeated measures tests (Moser, West, & Hughes, 2012; Goos et al., 2013), while one study made use of the survey method (Range et al., 2012). In order to determine the long-term effects of retention on academic achievement and graduation rates, some studies made use of the longitudinal design in order to generate results. Studies that made use of this method consisted of studies by Gottfried (2012) and Lamote et al. (2014).
Qualitative and mixed-method studies. Among the many studies on the effect of retention on academic achievement, only two studies were found in this review that made use of either qualitative or mixed method research. The study of Smith and Herzog (2014) made use of the interview method in order to gather information on the subjective perceptions of students, teachers, and school administrators on the effect of mandatory retention. On the other hand, Renaud (2010) made use of the mixed method design, combining the use of interview and statistical analysis to determine if retention is beneficial on student outcomes.
Meta-analyses. While most of the studies have used quantitative research methods in investigating the effects of retention, there are also a number of studies that made use of meta-analysis. These studies have conducted a review of previous literature to draw conclusions on the subject matter. Studies that made use of this method in this review include the studies conducted by Huddleston (2014), Range et al. (2011), Lynch (2013), Tingle et al. (2014), and Huddleston (2014).
In lieu of the data gathered from the review of literature and the gaps in research presented, this study aims to evaluate the effect of the mandatory retention policy on academic achievement and graduation among students in the county in central Florida. In particular, this study aims to answer the following research questions:
- Is there a significant statistical difference in FCAT scores between retained and non-retained 3rd grade students from school year 2003 to 2004 to 2009 to 2010?
- Is there a significant statistical causal relationship between the number of retained students and the number of graduates in the local school district from 2004 to 2014?
In order to address the research questions of this study based on data from the review of literature, the following research hypotheses are formulated:
- There is a significant statistical difference in FCAT scores between retained and non-retained 3rd grade students from school year 2003-2004 to 2009-2010?
- There is a significant statistical causal relationship between the number of retained students and the number of graduates in the local school district from 2004 to 2014.
Mandatory retention has been part of the American educational system for many years and has been notable it the first and third grade levels in elementary schools as well as in Grades 9, 10, and 11 in secondary schools. Studies have shown that grade retention significantly depends on a number of factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender. In a wide range of studies, mandatory retention policies have resulted in a mixture of positive and negative effects as studies have been shown to have a positive effect on student achievement and graduation rates. However, recent studies on the effects of grade retention on graduation rates among students appears to suggest that retention leads to decreases in graduation rates and even increases dropout rates. In order to further investigate the effect of grade retention on academic achievement and graduation rates, Chapter 3 presents the methods to be implemented in the present study.
The studies conducted on the effects of the mandatory retention policy for the academic achievement of students and on graduation rates are diverse in terms of methods used as empirical studies have used various research methodologies as indicated in the review of related literature. These methodologies include quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method researches along with some meta-analyses or review of literature, as mentioned in the commonly used methodologies in the previous chapter. Most studies on the effect of retention on academic achievement and graduation rates were quantitative and made use of statistical analysis because the investigation of retention involved the use of measurable constructs such as academic achievement and graduation rates. Similarly, the present study also aims to investigate the effects of retention on achievement and graduation rates, which are both measurable variables. According to Hoy (2009), quantitative research is a scientific investigation that emphasizes on quantified measures of performance. This means that inquiry is based on observations that can be expressed mathematically, in order to gain understanding on possible patterns embedded on various phenomena. It is for this reason that this proposed study will make use of the quantitative research methodology.
This chapter discusses the methodology that will be used in the study as well as the main methods that will be used. Also, this chapter discusses the participants, the instruments used, and the overall design of the study. It also includes the step-by-step procedures and how the data will be gathered and analyzed.
Because the present study will make use of archival data on the academic achievement and graduation rates among students in the county in central Florida, the present study will not involve any research participants. However, the study will involve data from 3rd grade students from all the schools in the county in central Florida from 2003 to 2010. The methods of the study will select data from the students, regardless of age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Because the study will make use of archival data, the identity of the students will not be indicated in the study as it will only use data in the form of FCAT scores since 2003 and graduation rates. This also means that no data will be gathered from any student directly, hence, no letter of consent will be issued. Instead, permission to gather data will be secured from the school administrators of all the elementary schools in the county in central Florida. Aside from the FCAT scores and graduation rates of the students, the present study will also gather archival data from students who were retained at least once and students who were not retained.
Because this proposed study will make use of archival data, no instruments will be used in the data gathering process. However, the data for the study will consist of academic achievement and graduation rates of both retained and nonretained students. Academic achievement will be based on the scores of the students obtained from the FCAT. The FCAT was launched in 1998 as part of Florida’s overall plan to improve the academic achievement of students by implementing higher standards. The FCAT was then administered to Grades 3 to 11, which consisted of standard assessments in mathematics, reading, science, and writing. The FCAT was used until 2010 before transitioning to FCAT 2.0 and the Florida End-of-Course (EOC) assessments (Florida Department of Education, 2014).
Aside from the scores based on the FCAT, this proposed study will also assess the graduation rates of both retained and non-retained students from the school year 2003-2004 to school year 2009-2010. There is no other instrument that will be used to assess graduation rates as the proposed study will make use of archived data from all the elementary schools within the county in central Florida.
The present study will be divided into two parts which will be directed into different statistical analyses in order to answer the research questions. It will make use of a between-subjects design and will make use of a t-test for independent samples and a linear regression analysis. This section further discusses the details of the procedures for this proposed study.
Design. Under the quantitative research methodology, the proposed study will make use of the between groups design. The design of the study will consist of two parts. The first part aims to investigate the effect of retention on academic achievement, while the second part of the study aims to investigate the effect of retention on graduation rates. In the first part of the study there will be one independent variable and two independent variables. Mandatory retention will be used as the independent variable in the study. Mandatory retention can operationally define whether or not students have been retained at least once or not. Mandatory retention will be presented in two levels, the retained students and non-retained students. Retained students are defined in the study as those who were unable to manifest basic reading comprehension at the end of their third year (Brophy, 2006). The said students will be identified based on their status as indicated in the archived data. Data gathered on the retained students’ condition consists of FCAT scores of students who have been retained in their at least once.
However, data gathered from the non-retained students’ condition consists of FCAT scores of students who were never retained for another grade level. The dependent variable will consist of academic achievement. Academic achievement is operationally defined as the level of achievement the students have obtained in terms of the academic requirements of their grade level. This will be measured using the FCAT scores of the students.
The second part of the study aims to determine the causal effect of retention on graduation rates. This part will make use of the correlation study design, which consists of an independent variable and a dependent variable. The independent variable in the second part is the retention rate, which is operationally defined as the number of students in the graduated class who were retained at least once. This is measured in terms of frequency per school year. The dependent variable is the graduation rate, which is operationally defined as the number of graduates per school year from the start of the implementation of the mandatory retention program in 2003 to 2015. This is also measured in terms of frequency.
Data Collection. Permission to conduct the study will be secured from the Department of Education in Florida in order to allow the researcher of this proposed study to collect data from the elementary schools in the county in central Florida. Additional permission to gather data will be secured from the school administrators of all the elementary schools within the county in central Florida which the study will take place. Once all the permissions have been secured, archived data of all the schools will be gathered. The data that will be gathered will consist of 3rd grade students’ FCAT scores from 2003 to 2010, and graduation rates of all students from 2003 to 2015.
In the first part of the study, the FCAT scores of 3rd grade students from 2003 to 2010 will be collected. The data will then be divided into two groups: scores of retained students and scores of non-retained students. Afterwards, the FCAT scores of retained students will be compared to the FCAT scores of non-retained students. In the second part of the study, a list of all students from school year 2003 to 2004 to 2014 to 2015 will be established from the archived data. From each school year, the number of retained students and the number of students who graduated will be collected.
After the collection process, the data will be subjected to statistical analysis. The analysis will also consist of two parts. The first part aims to determine if there is a significant difference in FCAT scores between retained and non-retained students, while the second part aims to determine if retention is a good predictor of graduation rates among students.
Data Analysis. The study aims to determine if there is a significant statistical difference in FCAT scores between retained and non-retained 3rd grade students from school year 2003-2004 to 2009-2010? In order to determine if there is a significant difference in the FCAT scores of retained and non-retained students, an independent sample T-test will be used. An independent-sample t-test is a parametric procedure used to test two sample means from two independent samples of scores. The goal of this test is to determine if the two samples of scores are different from each other significantly and not because of chance. Two samples are said to be independent from each other when the participants of one of the samples do not have any regard to the participants in the other sample (Heiman, 2014). In the case of this proposed study, the two samples will consist of the FCAT scores of retained and the FCAT scores of non-retained 3rd grade students from school year 2003-2004 to 2009-2010. These two will fit the samples because these two samples of scores belong to two different types of students, and thus, these samples are independent from each other. The FCAT scores of retained and non-retained 3rd grade students from school year 2003-2004 to 2009-2010 will be held as independent samples to be used in the T-test.
The second part of the study examines the causal relationship between retention and graduation rates. More specifically, examines if there is a significant statistical causal relationship between the number of retained students and the number of graduates in the local school district from 2004 to 2014. In order to determine if retention is able to significantly predict graduation rates among students, a linear regression analysis will be conducted. The purpose of the test is to determine if the dependent variable (Y) is an effective linear function of the independent variable (X). If both the independent and dependent variables effectively follow a linear regression, it can be suggested that the independent variable is able to predict the values in the dependent variable. In other words, the linear regression analysis determines if the values of the independent variable (X) are a good predictor of the values of the dependent variable (Y) (Asthana & Bushan, 2007). In the present study, the independent variable is the number of retained students in the local school district from 2004-2014. While the dependent variable is the graduation rates per year level in the local school district from 2004-2014. The study will determine if the number of retained students per graduating class from school year 2003-2004 to school year 2014-2015 will effectively predict the number of students that graduated in the same time frame. Linear regression analysis determines if the causal relationship is statistically significant and not by chance.
During the analysis of the data, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) will be used in order to compute for the statistical difference in FCAT scores between retained and non-retained 3rd grade students and the significant causal relationship between retention and graduation rates among the students. SPSS is computer software that is capable of conducting statistical analyses for various types of research. In this proposed study, the data will be inputted on the SPSS software where an independent-sample t-test and a linear regression analysis will be conducted.
Through this proposed study, further knowledge may be obtained with regard to how the mandatory retention program is able to influence academic achievement as well as graduation rates among elementary school students. Although the study will be able to determine if such an effect is significant or not, it still has a number of limitations. This proposed study is limited in terms of the research methodologies used, the lack of actual participants, lack of control across treatment conditions in the study, and the number of cases in the second part of the data analysis may render some parts of the study, biased.
The quantitative research methodology is used in order to determine patterns of behavior or phenomenon using measurable observations. In the case of the present study, the research focuses on the FCAT scores and the frequency of retained and graduated students. This means that the study is limited to quantitative or measurable data. Although the study will be able to determine statistical effects, it will not able to assess the actual lived experiences of the students. The study will exclude the subjective experiences of the students in terms of how they perceive the advantages and disadvantages of the mandatory retention program. This includes their perceptions as to whether or not they think the policy is effective in improving their academic achievement or if it increases their chances of graduating.
Aside from the limitations of the quantitative research methodology, the study is also limited in terms of actual participants and the instruments used. The present study relies on archived data, which means the data will not be collected from the actual students. This limitation is also related to the fact that the present study lacks control across the two treatment conditions because the data has already been archived and not collected first hand by the researchers. This means that the study is no longer concerned as to whether or not there were differences in the testing environment of the students. In addition, because the researchers of this study will not be the ones to administer the tests, students will not be informed that their scores will be used in the study.
Finally, the study is also limited in terms of the number of cases that will be used in the second part of the analysis. It should be taken to note that the second part of the study involves the frequency of retained students and the frequency of graduates in 12 school years, which means there are only 12 cases in the analysis. This suggests that the low number of cases may affect the statistical power of the analysis.
While there are three main limitations in this proposed study, there are a number of interventions that can be implemented in order to address such limitations. Although this proposed study will not be able to collect information from the students first hand, a number of steps can be done in order to assure that the effects of retention on academic achievement and graduation rates are significant and not by chance. These steps include testing for homogeneity of variance, as well as identifying outliers in the data. Before the main analysis will be conducted, the test for homogeneity of variance is used to ensure that the population variances are equal. Also, outlined scores will not be included in the analysis. It is also important to ensure that all assumptions for regression analysis be met despite the low number of cases in the study. According to Asthana and Bushan (2007), both variables should be continuous (e.g. frequency, or a person’s height), has fairly symmetrical distribution and should achieve a linear function.
The data collection process will take a maximum of 6 hours. Research and Accountability will extract the archival data and send via email. Actual data collected from all the schools in the county in central Florida which the study will be conducted. It is expected that data can be collected from multiple school simulatanelusly within the 6 hours. After data collection, the data will be subjected for analysis and results will be generated.
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