Dr. Marcus Winters and Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Research and Policy students, Sarah Cooksey, Giovanna Basney, and Thomas Swaim have been awarded a grant for $25,000 to study the effects of New York City’s policy requiring that students be retained if they don’t meet a minimal test score benchmark. The project is called, “The Effect of New York City’s Test-Based Promotion Policy on Student Outcome.” Several school systems have recently enacted or are reportedly considering adopting policies that require students to demonstrate possession of some minimal proficiency on standardized tests in order to be promoted to the next grade and avoid other remediation treatments. Such test-based promotion policies are intended to end the common practice of social promotion.
Though these remediation policies often include several treatments for low-performing students, what makes test-based promotion policies particularly controversial is that they can substantially increase the percentage of students who are retained in grade. School systems adopting policies that dramatically increase grade retention do so despite a large body of research finding that retention is harmful to student achievement. However, researchers have recently raised serious questions about the validity of prior studies measuring the effect of grade retention on student achievement.
The study will utilize a regression discontinuity design in order to identify the effect of remediation under New York City’s policy on student outcomes over time. The method takes advantage of the fact that probability of treatment under the policy is directly related to where a student's test score falls relative to a known threshold. Dr. Winters states, "Essentially, our procedure compares the outcomes of students whose score fell just above the eligibility threshold (and thus were likely to be promoted) to those whose score fell just below the eligibility threshold (and thus were likely to be retained and remediated). The idea behind the procedure is that students whose scores are just above and below the eligibility threshold are very similar to each other at baseline and thus any differences in their later outcomes must be due to the likelihood of treatment."