The Biden administration chose a real educator to be education secretary. Now Dr. Cardona should move to end third-grade retention, a procedure that would be especially cruel administered with this pandemic. Many alternative plans are available to help children do better in school that won’t involve the humiliation of retention.
Cardona should withhold federal funds to school districts that flunk third graders. He could accomplish this better if he’d cancel the high-stakes tests.
Educators and parents are furious about the Biden administration going forward with high-stakes testing. Repeatedly Americans are told that children have mental problems and are depressed because they’re not in school, not learning with their favorite teachers, or socializing with their friends. It’s disingenuous to claim one cares about a child’s emotions and send them to school to take a high pressured test during this pandemic!
Worse is to tell a child they failed the test and will stay in the same grade! Or to say they didn’t do well on the test, but if they don’t want to fail, they can retake the test!
This rotten practice got momentum in the State of Florida under former Governor Jeb Bush. If Bush had wanted to do right by children, if he’d been a savvy leader for educators, he would have used the class size amendment (remember it?) to lower class size in K-3rd grade. He could have made the argument that lowering class sizes in K-3rd grade would benefit children. That’s where children learn to read. He had the STAR study for back-up.
While there’s real research to show that children do better by lowering class size in those grades, there’s no research to show that holding children back in third-grade works! Bush had plenty of research that shows this too. Teachers and parents from both political parties might have seen him as a real hero if he hadn’t worked so hard to undermine public schools, running over teachers and students on the way.
Instead, Bush has focused on the archaic practice of holding children back in third grade due to a test score, likely carrying this message to other states that have bought into it too, because they either don’t know the research or they falsely believe it’s a way to get tough on and manage children, usually other people’s children.
Retention is a cruel thing to do to children. Frustrated parents might follow the teacher’s lead and think holding children back is best, the gift of another year, but it isn’t necessary if schools provide other options. Few students overcome its negative long-term effects. Teachers have no choice if the state mandates it. It might give a state better test scores because the students with learning difficulties are held back from the key grade for testing.
A well-prepared teacher knows how to assess students. Good testing is a hallmark of good teaching. Many assessments have been on the market for years that teachers use to informally assess their students to glean information about that student and figure out ways to help them learn. But testing has been stolen by those reformers who have worked to remake schools and schooling for their agenda, to privatize public education.
Cardona could change it. For example, the federal government is pouring billions into Tennessee for a blurry reading program. The legislators will now retain third-graders if they don’t pass the test, disregarding third-grade retention’s harmful effects. Tennesseans realize how harmful retention, as Andy Spears reports here.
P.L. Thomas who is a Furman education professor and author of How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care, has written about retention also providing resources to show why retention should end in UPDATED: Grade Retention Research.
The National Council of Teachers of English called for a Resolution on Mandatory Grade Retention and High-Stakes Testing in 2015.
Education Secretary Cardona, who should understand the harmful effects of retention, could review the states doing this harmful practice and deny them funding if they’re planning on continuing this harmful practice. And if he really wants to gain the American people’s trust and admiration, he will end high-stakes testing.
Posts about retention.
Setting Children Up to Hate Reading February 2, 2014
For You Michigan! You Are Wrong about Retention! October 17, 2015