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A Think Twice Review of:

The Effects of Test-based Retention on Student Outcomes Over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Florida

Think Twice - Dec 03, 2015

Publisher/Think Tank - National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Author(s) - Guido Schwerdt and Martin R. West

As part of its working paper series, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) recently released a report examining the outcomes of Florida’s third-grade retention policy. The report concluded, contrary to the conventional wisdom on grade retention, that third-grade retention had positive effects on the following year’s test results, but the effects fade, with no effect on graduation. The report attempted to investigate the impact of a Florida policy, which flags students for retention, to repeat third grade, based on a state-specified cut-score on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test. The findings indicated that students just below the threshold (one-third of whom were retained) performed better than those just above the threshold (5% of whom were retained) on next year’s tests.

Reviewer(s) - Joseph P. Robinson-Cimpian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Overall, the review points out, the methods used have extremely limited generalizability, which is restricted to students at or very near the threshold and directly affected by the policy. Even setting aside the problems generated by confounding retention effects with the effects of other interventions and supports, the findings are not easily generalizable to lower- or higher-achieving students, to other grades, or to other states with similar test-based retention policies.