Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Effect of Grade Retention and Social Promotion on Student Outcomes

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 11:15 AM
Tuttle North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Matthew F Larsen, Lafayette College and Jon Valant, Tulane University
In many states, students who do not meet test-based proficiency goals are retained in that grade the next year.  These retention policies work to incentivize students as well as provide remediation for students who do not meet these standards. However, some researchers have found that remediation can have negative long-run effects on outcomes such as high school graduation (Jacob and Lefgren, 2009) that may ultimately affect labor market outcomes. 

The state of Louisiana has recently enacted policies that seek the purported benefits of remediation without the long-run costs.  Some students can be “socially promoted,” allowing them to travel to the next grade with their peers while continuing to be “academically remediated”.  This stands in contrast to most grade retention policies, which require retained students to stay in their same grade.  We examine whether Louisiana’s retention policies are more successful with respect to students’ academic and nonacademic outcomes—like high school graduation and behavior incidents—than other types of retention policies.  To do so, we exploit standardized test score cutoffs (the basis of grade promotion decisions), using a fuzzy regression discontinuity design to estimate the effects of these policies on 4th and 8th grade students.  

We also examine whether the efficacy of these policies depend on how they are implemented.  Within a district, charter schools are given more discretion about the exact rules for grade promotion and retention.  At the same time, charter schools’ need to attract students may provide a different incentive structure around the desire for retention.  Using post-Katrina New Orleans charter schools, we examine whether retention policies differ in a market-based governance setting and whether there are differential effects on students because of this.