What Happens in First Grade....

It is not easy to tell what we are going to be twelve years from now. Yet, what happens in the early years of basic education can strongly correlate with what happens in the later years. For students who are struggling in the first grade, promoting or retaining a student apparently has long term consequences. Students who repeated a grade in the elementary years are more than twice likely to leave school when they reach the high school years. This is the main finding of a 14-year prospective study of more than 700 at-risk students in Texas.

Above copied from
Hughes, J. N., West, S. G., Kim, H., & Bauer, S. S. (2017, November 9). Effect of Early Grade Retention on School Completion: A Prospective Study. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000243

What is especially interesting to note in this study is that school-leaving of these at-risk students mainly begin to occur in the later years of basic education, not in middle school nor in the later grades of elementary school. Unlike promoted students, retained students seem to drop out in a big wave at the beginning of high school or ninth grade. The authors of the study attribute this observation to the much higher academic demands of high school.

This blog already has several posts on this subject:

Since the students who are either promoted or retained have been equated by  using propensity scores, the difference one sees in the drop-out rates in this new study can be assigned almost exclusively to whether a student has been retained or promoted in spite of failing marks.

By removing other possible confounding factors, Hughes and coworkers are therefore the first to point out that retention itself indeed causes a greater likelihood of school-leaving. 

The main explanation on why retention leads to greater drop-outs is the age factor combined with opportunity. Retained children will be at least a year older and by the time these students finish ninth grade, they will be sixteen years old. These children therefore can already work full-time according to existing laws in Texas. This opportunity to earn versus staying for three more years in high school drives these students to leave school. As the authors state,
"The well-documented impulsivity and poor decision making demonstrated by many adolescents is attributed, in part, to the protracted maturation of the prefrontal cortex and associated regions of the brain. One form of impulsivity common in adolescents is a tendency to exhibit impatience when given a choice between an immediate small reward versus a larger but delayed reward (Romer, Duckworth, Sznitman, & Park, 2010)."
The additional two years in basic education in the Philippines obviously can make it harder for struggling students to make the choice of staying in school. This is one area where the Department of Education in the Philippines has at least addressed the fact that retention should be minimized. However, the correct intervention will always be providing support where this is most needed. So I am going to repeat what I wrote in a previous post on this topic:

DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012 provides the steps that need to be taken when students fail. It is described in one short paragraph within the 125-page memo:
Here then is a short intellectual exercise. As demonstrated in this blog through numerous articles, poorer learning outcomes correlate strongly with poverty and shortages in resources. Thus, it is only expected that failing students are going to be more common in schools that are overcrowded, under-resourced, and poorly staffed. These schools are likewise employing multiple shifts and large pupil to teacher ratios because of lack of classrooms and teachers. Thus, it is in these schools that DepEd expects teachers to find extra time to help struggling students. It is in these schools where there are not enough classrooms that low achieving students are expected to undergo remediation after class hours. It is in these schools where teachers are overworked that teachers are required to spend extra time with poor students. It is in these schools where there are gross shortages in resources that students are required to take summer classes. This only shows how seriously DepEd considers learning outcomes in its new curriculum. DepEd is not serious at all. Teachers are smart enough to see what the memo really says. If the actions required with retention are impossible then the teachers are correct in interpreting the order as mass promotion.


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